The African Phenology Network - COP26 Network Project

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Early warning systems for environmental change in the African tropics

The world’s climate is rapidly changing, and evidence shows that these changes are already impacting the living processes of the natural world. Long-term ecological research on climate-sensitive seasonal processes (phenology) - such as leafing, flowering and fruiting in plants – provides valuable knowledge to assess climate vulnerability. This information is especially important in regions such as the African tropics where people are highly dependent on seasonal natural resources. However, ecological monitoring remains sparse in the African tropics, hampering the region’s ability to identify and adapt to environmental change.

Between June and November 2021, the African Phenology Network engaged stakeholders in a rapid assessment of capacity for plant ecological monitoring to support climate adaptation in the African tropics. This assessment included an online survey of governmental and non-governmental research institutions and a pilot study involving time-lapse plant monitoring cameras and mobile data forms at three existing research sites within the network. Data and feedback were discussed and analysed within four focal workshops. This collaborative process has shown us that to make a step-change in our research capabilities for ecological early warning systems in tropical Africa, we need to:

  1. Scale up research ambition • Priority should be given to research questions of international importance that can be addressed at scale (e.g., using mass data collection tools such as time-lapse cameras and mobile phones). • Collaborating with experts in other tropical regions is key to delivering a timely and effective response to climate adaptation requirements.

  2. Standardise field and data methods • To support new ambitious research programs we need to develop, and widely publicise, a suite of standardised phenology methods that are suited to the funding and logistical constraints encountered in our region. • We should capitalise on existing expert knowledge by connecting phenology “super sites” across the continent with a network of local “satellite” sites for mentoring and support.

  3. Invest in technical training • Funding should be sought specifically for a) training and access to technical field methods (e.g., time-lapse cameras, flux towers and unmanned aerial vehicles) and b) expertise in building relationships with policy makers in the region.

On our YouTube Channel you can access recordings of the workshops that we ran during the project and the video ‘How-to’ manuals for using mobile data collection forms in the field (or via our website here).

About us

The African Phenology Network (APN) enables and resources research collaborations between scientists, encourages standardised data methodologies, widens access to existing research data and grows African leadership in the field. Its ultimate research aim is to understand the climatic drivers of plant productivity and reproduction across forested Africa, and thereafter to provide an open evidence-base to decision-makers looking to predict and mitigate the effects of climate change in the region.

The COP26 Network Project was funded by a COP26 International Climate Change Network Grant from The Royal Society of Edinburgh between May and November 2021. Emma Bush from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the project lead and Aaron De Veres was the project coordinator.

Names of Collaborators: Bismark Ofosu-Bamfo, Herve Memiaghe, Asenath Adienge, Robin Whytock, Katharine Abernethy, Stephen Cavers, David Odee, Lee White, Flore Koumba Pambo, Loic Makaga, Edmond Dimoto

Collaborating Organisations/Institutions: University of Stirling, UK UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK Ministry of Water, Forests, Seas and Environment (MINEF), Gabon National Parks Agency (ANPN), Gabon Institute of Tropical Ecology (IRET), CENAREST, Gabon School of Science, University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), Ghana Faculty of Biosciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Kenya