Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have drawn the first comprehensive maps of the distribution of more than 3,900 species of birds, mammals, snakes and amphibians in sub-Saharan Africa.
The maps have been prepared using a database developed by Carsten Rahbek and others at the university's zoological museum. In collaboration with scientists at Cambridge University, the Copenhagen team will soon start investigating how Africa's biodiversity can best be preserved with priorities based on scientific principles.
"The database has been compiled from factual research in millions of published and unpublished records and collections held by zoological and natural history museums around the world," Rahbek said. "There is documentation that the individual species are actually found in the areas mapped."
The Copenhagen database shows where biodiversity is greatest in Africa in grid squares measuring 100km square, and it pinpoints where it is most important to preserve wildlife. Distribution maps have never been made for almost half of the species covered.
As the database can show the best way to conserve as many species as possible in any given geographic area, it supports the long-held belief in wildlife preservation circles that conserving each species by itself is inefficient.
The database also makes it possible to balance the demands of humanity with those of the animal kingdom, so humans and animals can continue to coexist in the future without the animals becoming extinct.
"What we will look at in the future is how to make a biodiversity priority that takes scarce resources and human needs into account," Rahbek said. "Making usable priorities that do not take human presence into account is utopian."