This week, the Australian Museum is hosting an exciting and innovative workshop with attendees from the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and associated community based partners. Project funding has been secured for an expedition to take place in the region over the next year, with the aim to increase our understanding of the mammalian biodiversity in these tropical islands, combining both current scientific methods and traditional local community knowledge to do so.
Professor Tim Flannery is facilitating the workshop and has been providing commentary on his experience in scientific research in the Solomon Islands Archipelago over the last 30 years. He has been sharing his extensive knowledge of the native mammals of this region, with discussions for the week based around community engagement, research methods for collecting, measuring specimens, DNA sampling and identifying species, as well as general dos and don’ts for working in isolated regions in the tropics.
Workshop attendees have been able to tour through our mammal collections and view specimens that had been collected by Tim himself during the 1980's. Some specimens of interest include the New Georgia monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex taki) and the giant rat (Solomys ponceleti), both endemic species to the Solomon Islands archipelago. These two species are somewhat elusive, with first descriptions of this particular monkey-faced bat being made in the early 1990’s. Little is known about the distribution of these species to this day, along with other mammals of the forests of the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. Hence, a research expedition is in order and will give the perfect premise to teach specimen collection, observation techniques and other data collection methods to the wider village communities in order to promote education and conservation in the region.
Highlights of the workshop so far have been learning about these communities in detail and how closely aligned the cultures found in this area have been with their environment for thousands of years. It has become apparent that local knowledge of species distribution will be key in the overall experimental design of this project.
Our workshop attendees from the Solomon Islands and Bougainville will return home equipped with camera traps, field kits and DNA sampling tools. They will be taking the lead in carrying out the expedition surveys in their local communities, passing on knowledge in identifying and conserving these particular species of bats and rats with the vision of expanding these efforts to a wider range of mammal species in the future.
An exciting period awaits us, where we will learn much more about the biodiversity of mammals in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville - watch this space!
Alexandra Nuttall, AMRI