Trends and themes in African Ornithology

Posted 22 January 2018 by NISC under Announcements & Notices • Journal: Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology
Trends and themes in African Ornithology

The most recent Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC) held in Dakar, Senegal in 2016, was a showcase of current ornithological research activity in Africa, with 137 talks in 17 symposia describing fieldwork in 36 states of the African Union and over 240 delegates from across the world. 

In Volume 89 of Ostrich, Colin M Beale, in his paper, “Trends and themes in African ornithology”  reviews trends in ornithological literature since 1990 within the context of the 14th PAOC by seeking to identify trends in research topics, taxonomic, habitat and geographic biases, and to assess how robust the science of ornithology is across Africa.
The symposia itself, covering diverse topics, from seabird populations, raptor ecology, parrots and conservation lead to several papers in this volume of Ostrich. Beale suggests that ornithology is thriving in Africa, but a review of the congress’ programme demonstrates that some large and important bird families may not be receiving the attention they deserve. 

In his Review Paper, Beale discusses how he found that most papers referencing African bird species are focused on medical-related research questions, with a total of 19 985 papers mentioning African countries and African bird species by name. By far the most common words in abstracts from the complete full-text search in all years were human health related, suggesting that birds were only mentioned in these papers as risk factors for human health and disease problems and were not the primary focus of the research.
He suggests that for many scientists and perhaps much of society (at least those who determine where research grants are spent), perceptions of birds are not the positive views desired by ornithologists. Beale outlines this as a threat and an opportunity. 

Restricting the literature search to journals African ornithologists are most likely to publish in, Beale found 2 279 relevant papers. These describe work on 29% of African bird species from 82% of African bird families, in all but two African countries. 

Beale found that while many authors with African affiliations publish papers, outside of South Africa very few African-based authors reliably publish in the international research literature, perhaps indicating difficulties in establishing a productive research career in much of Africa. Beale concludes that with a call to overseas ornithologists working in Africa and to organisations funding research in Africa to work together to build capacity outside of the few established research centres. 

Beale mentions that within traditional ornithological literature the output of papers on African topics since 1990 has been variable. Peak productivity coincided with publication of special issues in Ostrich, often associated with publication of proceedings from the PAOC, and there is evidence for a slight increase in productivity over time. 

“African ornithology currently owes much to relatively few individuals, a research base we need to grow if ornithology is to have the capacity to answer core challenges of the twenty-first century.”

The 14th PAOC demonstrated how widespread bright and talented young researchers are; it is the duty of all, but particularly of international ornithologists working in Africa, to improve the local legacy of their work. Beale also encourages funders and international societies working in Africa to explore further the roles they can play in nurturing local scientists. 

Beale’s paper is available to read at no charge until the end of April 2018 here.

The next Congress will be held in Addis Ababa in 2021. 
Photograph: Colin Beale. 
*Follow Colin Beale on Twitter @TZBirder ‏





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