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«Project synopsis Abstract General background Why Vanuatu, why Santo ? Scientific program Facilities deployed Training, Capacity Building, and Data ...»

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Global Biodiversity Survey



from sea bottom to ridge crests


Project synopsis


General background

Why Vanuatu, why Santo ?

Scientific program

Facilities deployed

Training, Capacity Building, and Data Repatriation

Education and outreach



Calendar of events



SANTO 2006 is a scientific expedition to document the fauna and flora, both marine and non-

marine, of a large, rugged island in the South Pacific: Espiritu Santo (or Santo), in Vanuatu.

Over 100 participants from some 15 countries will be involved in the field work, with a peak between August and December 2006. Special attention will be given to capacity building, and repatriation of information for sustainable development and environmental education.

The land area of Santo and its marine fringes host a mosaic of habitats that have remained largely unexplored. Santo's complex ecological diversity and its geographical position within the archipelagoes of Melanesia suggest a very high level of biological diversity. Much of its flora and fauna are still to be discovered, most notably in mega-diverse groups like insects and mollusks. Santo lies outside the centers of economic growth, with the consequence that it has been spared the global standardization that is affecting much of the planet. Culturally and linguistically, Santo is also uniquely diverse.

This biodiversity survey will document all the major environments (offshore deep-sea, reefs, caves, freshwater bodies, mountains, forest canopies) and will also address issues on how indigenous biodiversity has been impacted by 2,500 years of human presence. The project will make use of an unmatched suite of facilities, when human resources (divers, speleologists, professional climbers, ethnologists…) and logistics (research vessel, "canopy glider"…) are concerned.

General background Biodiversity crisis. A slogan for the media or a scientific reality? As with climate change, the take-away messages sent by biodiversity scientists may at times appear to be contradicting each other. On one hand, tropical regions are portrayed as phenomenal reservoirs of unknown species. On the other hand, the rate of extinction is reported to be higher in the tropics than in any other region of the world. Fact is that fundamental questions remain unanswered to understand the magnitude, stakes, and consequences of biodiversity loss.

Two teams of French scientists have acquired an internationally acknowledged know how on the implementation of large-scale biodiversity inventory projects. They are now merging their skills to address these questions through a project that will study all biodiversity compartments of a large island in the South Pacific.

The Principal Investigators of earlier comparable projects, Philippe Bouchet for marine biodiversity, Bruno Corbara and Olivier Pascal for tropical forest canopy, have until now separately mounted a significant number of expeditions that have been successful from scientific as well as media coverage perspectives. Subterranean environments are another frontier of biodiversity exploration; and French speleologists have a tradition of organizing major, and difficult, expeditions; they are also involved in the present project.

We believe that scientific questions, logistics, relationships with the host country and media coverage, all speak in favor of a single large-scale project that will be emblematic of a 21st century vision on biodiversity.

What is this 21st century vision?

• Biodiversity is considerably more diverse than what we believed even 20 years ago.

Millions of species remain to be discovered. However, in parallel, biodiversity loss has never been as high as it is today; one-fourth or one-third of all species will

–  –  –

• Research, conservation, sustainable use, training and data repatriation are closely interconnected. Scientists from developed countries have a moral responsibility to involve scientists, students and managing technicians from developing countries. This mission is now greatly facilitated by web based dedicated sites.

• Biological diversity and Cultural diversity have much in common. Among the indicators selected to monitor the 2010 target (reduce the loss of biodiversity), the Convention on Biological Diversity has in fact listed linguistic diversity.

Why Vanuatu, why Santo?

Island biological communities have fewer species and are simplified in comparison with continental systems. This makes tropical islands special showcases to study the composition of faunas and floras: Tropical islands host the bewildering species diversity characteristic of tropical ecosystems, but with the slimmed down island touch. A representative, if not exhaustive, survey of a large tropical island is thus an ambitious but realistic goal, in line with the ATBI (All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory) currently under way in the Smoky Mountains of North America.

Geographical and ecological isolation are also at the origin of evolutionary and speciesformation processes: islands are reservoirs rich in endemic biota, and also microcosms threatened by the introduction of invasive aliens. Currently, 75% of modern extinctions listed by IUCN have affected island taxa.

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Scientific Program The scientific program consists of 4 major "themes" centered around their major sampling facilities, and a cut-across "ethnosciences" shared theme. The survey will hit all the habitats of the island (deep offshore, coral reefs, continental and marine caves, lowland and highland forests, rivers).

Beyond the apparent disparity of environments and taxa that will be studied, all themes will address the same underlying questions that are central to the project: What is the real magnitude of biodiversity when the richest habitats and most diverse taxa are considered?

What is the share of rare species in species assemblages? What is the spatial distribution of biodiversity, or else how do we evaluate site representativity at an ecoregional scale?

The scientific questions asked by SANTO 2006 were already at the core of two similar expeditions recently implemented by three of the project coordinators, PANGLAO 1 in the Philippines and IBISCA 2 in Panama. Just like Panglao for mollusks and crustaceans, IBISCA (Inventory of Biodiversity of Insects of Soil and Canopy) was the most thorough survey of invertebrate biodiversity in a tropical forest; its patron is Harvard University's professor E. O.


Undoubtedly, new species discoveries are to be expected in all animal (except probably birds) and plant groups, and "discovering" biodiversity is admittedly one of the project goals.

Such a goal is shared by many projects similar to ours, but SANTO 2006 is innovative because of the range of sampling techniques deployed and the size of the research group involved, from the field to the laboratory after the expedition.

It is essential that the 2006 survey can be used as a baseline to document medium- to longterm changes in fauna and flora. Future changes will touch native species that will become more rare and will eventually disappear, but also non-native species that will be introduced and established. As far as possible, the 2006 baseline study will attempt to document what is there (the current composition of the fauna and flora), but also what is not there (potential invaders not yet present in Santo).

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1 PANGLAO : research project on marine biodiversity, organized by MNHN in 2004.

2 IBISCA : research project on the canopy of a tropical forest, organized by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Pro-Natura in 2003.

–  –  –

5 to comprehensively sample all the forest strata, from the soil fauna to the canopy. The main target taxa are insects, for which the strategy and research goals have been shown by IBISCA (2003-2005) in Panama to be relevant and adequate.

This is a logistically complex theme that will take to the field 40 to 50 persons. Basecamps will be established for domestic and scientific facilities (for sorting, observing, and preserving the biota sampled, and also for extracting the soil fauna), and specific reconnaissance trips have highlighted three regions where we will focus our research effort: (1) the highlands of the volcanic mountain cluster of Tabwemasana-Santo, to be reached from the village of Kerepoa ; (2) the region above the village of Penauru, which has a kauri forest probably unique in the South Pacific ; (3) the Butmas - Tankara area in central Santo, which has the best forest on limestone. As far as will be necessary, more superficial surveys (2-5 days tours) will hit elsewhere on east Santo, in particular Vathe Conservation area, the Sarakata river drainage, and on west Santo, in particular the limestone areas near Tasmate and the tip of Cape Cumberland.

–  –  –

6 Theme « Fallows and aliens »

(Coordination: Michel de Garine; Michel Pascal): 8-10 participants Anthropogenic environments (cultivated fields, fallows, roadsides…) are often neglected, or even despised, by naturalists that tend to concentrate their sampling efforts on habitats as pristine as possible. However, accidentally or voluntarily introduced species settle first in disturbed habitats, where they build up populations before expanding towards less disturbed environments. If we want to be predictive on future changes in the biodiversity of Santo, our 2006 baseline must also consider the non-native species of fauna and flora. The « Fallows and aliens » theme will therefore inventory disturbed and anthropogenic habitats, to measure the load of aliens, including potentially invasive taxa already locally present. The genetic structure of local populations of selected species will be used to formulate hypotheses on their geographical origin and pathways to their introduction. Local and scientific knowledge will be used in combination to understand the ecological role and dynamics of such species in natural and modified ecosystems on Santo.

Two different areas in terms of human disturbances will be compared: one much impacted, the south-eastern part of Santo, near Luganville, where plantations and cattle ranches have been transforming the landscape since 100 years; the harbor and airport which are located in this area are also gateways to new introductions. And a less impacted area, probably Vathe Conservation Area, now a mosaic of natural and secondary vegetation types.

Cut-across Theme « Cultural Perceptions of Biodiversity »

(Coordination: Florence Brunois; Pierre Cabalion; Elsa Faugère): 10 participants Knowledge on biodiversity does not come as a "revealed truth". For local residents, it is inherited orally from their fathers and forefathers and expanded through personal experience, with an emphasis on plants and animals that impact on the well-being and sustainability of the community. For non-resident scientists, knowledge on biodiversity is the result of a learning process through scientific literature and questioning on evolutionary processes, biogeographic patterns, and ecological processes; it typically involves brief periods in the field (a few weeks) followed by longer periods of time (months to years) confronting observations with the literature and reference collections. The success of conservation policies and management strategies depends on how successfully the two approaches can be blended. The challenge is that local residents and non-resident scientists do not speak the same language and have different education and cultural backgrounds. Local residents may value animals or plants that feed them or have symbolic value, even if these species are not indigenous to Santo, while scientists may value a rare species endemic to Santo that is seldom seen even by local residents. These differences in perspectives and perceptions will be adressed by visiting ethnologists in collaboration with Vanuatu Cultural Center's fieldworkers, working within in the thematic field groups.

The project will also document how knowledge on the biota of Santo in particular, and Vanuatu in general, has historically been acquired, either by individual collectors/travellers/residents or by programmed team work, and where the resulting collections are being held worldwide in museums, herbaria, and other research institutions. A relevant bibliography will be digitalized and made available to the Vanuatu Government.

7 Facilities deployed The facilities that we intend to set up for SANTO 2006 are unmatched in their scope, regarding either logistical facilities (research vessel, « Canopy-Glider ») or human resources (beside scientists: divers, speleologists, professional climbers, in total over 100 participants).

Altogether, these will facilitate a global approach of the fauna and flora, from coral reefs and offshore waters to the forest canopy, including terrestrial and marine caves, as well as freshwater habitats.

IRD-owned and operated research vessel ALIS will be the central instrument to carry out inventories of marine biodiversity.

Its terrestrial counterpart, the Canopy-Glider, will be used to explore tree canopies and to facilitate sampling by the biologists on its board.

"Scientific accomodation" (for laboratory space, preliminary processing of the samples,

communication, etc.) will be provided by two Luganville-based infrastructures:

- Vanuatu Maritime College for the "Marine Biodiversity" theme;

- Vanuatu Agriculture Research and Training Center (VARTC) for the "Karst" and "Fallows and Aliens" themes.

A basecamp will be built near the village of Penaoru to be used as a technical base for the Canopy Glider and as a domestic and scientific base for the participants. A much lighter, bivouac-type, facility will be established near 1200 m altitude to assist the scientists exploring the highlands above the village of Kerepoa.

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