Jan Mertens

Intensification of forest for coffee production affects mammals in Ethiopia

During the second half of 2014, we studied the effect of the intensification of natural forest for coffee production on large mammal communities using camera traps in Ethiopia. Now the results are out and published in the conservation journal Oryx (see below).

The high demand for coffee internationally results in an ongoing intensification of natural forests by clearing understory and removing trees resulting in few undisturbed forest left in Ethiopia. Although overall species diversity remained constant, large and medium sized carnivores are the first to disappear and diurnal activity patterns are shifted to nocturnal. The increased accessibility of coffee forests decreases the diurnal activity of large mammals and specifically affects the top predators in the ecosystem.

This is the first study in Africa that studied large mammals in coffee forest. Although Ethiopia is known for its high number of both animal and plant species that do not live anywhere else in the world, there is a concerning lack of conservation activities to preserve the biodiversity locally. Moreover, the extent of agricultural land is rapidly increasing at the expense of natural forest, resulting in a significant loss in biodiversity. Coffee forest, however, has since long been proposed as a more sustainable agricultural system, conserving biodiversity while providing income for local communities. We found a mammal diversity in coffee forest comparable to that of mature natural forest. This study therefore indicates the importance of coffee forest in Ethiopia for mammal conservation, where coffee has been cultivated as a shade crop for more than 1,000 years.

However, this study also showed that large carnivores such as leopard and African civet had a tendency towards natural forest, while crested porcupine and Ethiopian hare were typically associated with coffee forest. The latter two species are not commonly associated with forest, so their presence in coffee forest may be related to increased forest accessibility and a well-developed herb layer in coffee forest compared to natural forest. Moreover, mammal activity in natural forest peaked during daytime whereas the activity pattern in coffee forest  was predominantly crepuscular and nocturnal. This may be a direct adaptation to frequent human disturbance. Both forest buffalo and leopard, for example, were only observed at night in coffee forest. This study therefore also shows that, despite the high mammal diversity in coffee forest, it is important to recognise it cannot fully replace natural forest as a habitat for large mammals.

The complete loss of natural forest in combination with increased human disturbances may result in the local extinction of top predators such as leopard, which can subsequently trigger negative effects on other forest components such as decreased forest restoration due to higher pressure of herbivores. Therefore, a balanced landscape mosaic of coffee and natural forest may be a valuable conservation option, contributing to local economy while safeguarding the diversity of large mammals.

We compiled a video showcasing a handful of the inhabitants of the study area.

If you would like to read more about this study, the paper ‘From natural forest to coffee agroforest: implications for large mammal communities in the Ethiopian highlands’ is now freely available until 31/12/2018 in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation. The study was funded by the Rufford Foundation and Idea Wild.


New longhorn beetle from Cusuco National Park – Honduras

This charismatic new species of longhorn (Derobrachus cusucoensis) from montane forest in Cusuco National Park adds to the biological valorisation of the area. A small isolated mountain, part of the Merendon mountain range, Cusuco National Park is a cloud forest park characterised by a high endemism. As in many other places in Honduras, deforestation is a serious threat. The newly described large beetle is a frequent visitor of the light trap surveys as part of the yearly repeated biodiversity monitoring by Operation Wallacea in collaboration with BINCO. BINCO specializes in the documentation of smaller and less studied taxonomic groups to complement local conservation efforts and help protect these unique ecosystems. The species is described in the scientific journal Zootaxa and can be retrieved here.


New publication: using compact cameras in digitization projects

In the scope of a digitization project at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, we developed a new method to facilitate digitization of museum specimens. The new method had to be relatively cheap and fast. These requirements were met by use of a compact camera with focus stacking functionality which allows the camera to take multiple images at different focus depths. Afterwards, these sets of images are combined to form one picture in which the entire specimen is in focus. The development of cheap and fast methods is important because most museums face a shortage of personnel and infrastructure to keep up with digitizing their ever-growing collections. Our method is currently being used in project Chrysomel’ID with the valuable help of several volunteers.

The results of our research have been published in the open access journal ZooKeys. The pdf file can be found on our publication page.


Two newly described spider species from Uganda and Madagascar

Two spiders new to science were discovered and described by BINCO members under the supervision of African spider specialist Rudy Jocque. Koen Vanderhaegen discovered Dusmadiores elgonensis in coffee forests on Mount Elgon (Uganda) in 2015 during fieldwork for his PhD. The species was named after the study site where it was discovered and the description was published in the scientific peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. A spectacular white wolf spider was discovered by Merlijn Jocque in 2012, and collected by Siel Wellens in 2016 in northwestern Madagascar in collaboration with Operation Wallacea. The spider was found on a few white sand beaches of inland lakes, surrounded by dry forest. The species was named Ocyale ghost, referring to its white habitus and a wink to the large white direwolf in Game of thrones. The description appeared in the European journal of Taxonomy.


Our new website

Continuously growing in members, collaborators and projects since 2008 we are proud to present the brand new BINCO website! Please have a look at our ongoing projects worldwide, freely available information provided in the form of BINCO reports, peer reviewed publications and the many new species described. We are always looking for new collaborations, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions. And why we do this…? Because every species matters!


Sheka forest Ethiopia – update

The BINCO team, supported by Birdlife international and CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership fund), is again active in Ethiopia for a new project. Our work is based in Masha, a village within the Sheka UNESCO biosphere reserve, surrounded by large tracts of forest in the Southwest of Ethiopia. In a welcoming atmosphere, MELCA, an Ethiopian ngo, already selected a potential group of 5 locally embedded trainees, and it was nice to see that they all differed in background and age. These trainees have now successfully followed an intensive three weeks desk training on sustainable forest management, vertebrate biodiversity and biodiversity monitoring, resulting in some interesting presentations, workshops and group discussions. The first days of practical training have, obviously, resulted in some slapstick moments (e.g. binoculars that were used upside down), but in general it was a very interesting experience for all of us. Now we plan to continue these practical sessions and, more and more, increase the experience of the trainees to build up to standardized biodiversity monitoring and forest protection. The area is a promising biodiversity hotspot indeed, and the trainees were not at all surprised to find two endemic and threatened species of Banana frog (one Vulnerable and one Endangered on the IUCN red list) sheltering in the same Banana plant at a small river bed. Only later we found out that it is not that exceptional here, to find multiple threatened species on the same location, when we discovered a mule carcass surrounded by four species of vulture (all of them Critically Endangered). We are looking forward to further exploring the forest and hope that our trainees will find more interesting discoveries in the near future.


Newly discovered populations of the Ethiopian endemic and endangered banana frog (Afrixalus clarkei)

As the natural forest cover in Ethiopia is already less than 3% of what it once has been, the banana frog species Afrixalus clarkei, dwelling exclusively in the remnants of the country’s southwestern forests in only two populations, is exposed to a great risk of extinction.
Through our BINCO express survey in 2015 in the Beleta-Gera forest we extended the species’ range, thus making the first steps to saving the charming frogs.
The geographical range of the Ethiopian banana frog has been expanded by roughly 40 km towards the North and 70 km to the East. Its altitudinal distribution already reaches a maximum of 2030 metres above sea level, compared to the previously known maximum of 1800 m.

The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys and can be downloaded here.


Sheka forest Ethiopia – A new BINCO project

A new BINCO-project in the (coffee) forests of Southwest Ethiopia is about to be launched! In the beginning of 2016, we will be going to Sheka forest, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, where internationally, biodiversity knowledge is scarce. Supported by the CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) we plan to organize standardized biodiversity surveys together with local trainees. Our focus is on mammals, birds and amphibians and we hope that the gathered information can enhance the protection and management of the reserve.