The seven IAS-USP specialist scientists that were part of the expedition to Guadalcanal last month.
A team from The University of South Pacific’s (USP) Institute of Applied Science (IAS) led some biologists from around the world for a groundbreaking expedition to the interior of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in September 2015, to document the unique and diverse flora and fauna of this biodiversity hotspot.
Guadalcanal is the highest island in the Pacific, and its mountainous interior is home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.
Dr Sarah Pene, a Research Fellow at USP and part of the expedition botanical team, said that the Guadalcanal watersheds are classified as one of the highest priority sites for conservation efforts in the East-Melanesian Islands, and that expeditions such as this provide the scientific basis for informed decision-making and help to guide conservation policy.
She highlighted a few of the important preliminary findings made by the team that collected and documented thousands of species of plants and animals.
“Two frog species in the genus Platymantis were collected, which are thought to be never-before documented by scientists,” she said.
The herpetofauna team also made important observations of many species ecology and reproductive biology during the survey. About 90 species of ants were documented many of which are most probably new to science. Another interesting discovery was that some ant species were found which were observed to behave differently to the same species that is found in other parts of the Pacific, or in other parts of the world.
The mammal team collected nine different species of bats, some of which are endemic to the Solomon Islands, and to the island of Guadalcanal.
“Bats are important to the forest ecosystems as they assist in pollinating many species of plants, and dispersing their fruits and seeds,” she explained.
Team member Alifereti Naikatini said the expedition also enabled the collection and documentation of hundreds of plant species, to ensure that this unique flora can be studied by scientists across the world and expand our knowledge of their distribution, ecology and biogeographical history.
According to the team, the Solomon Islands Protected Areas Act of 2010 established the legal framework within which areas of biodiversity significance can be protected.
At the post-expedition press conference in Honiara, the scientific team presented some of the highlights of the expedition. In attendance was the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Douglas Ete, who pledged his government’s support for the creation of a legally protected area of conservation in the expedition site.
Mr Naikatini said the expedition also afforded an important capacity-building opportunity in that early-career scientists from the Solomon Islands, the majority of whom were graduates of USP, partnered with experienced taxonomists from the region and from international institutions to carry out the sampling and collection of plant and animal specimens.
Speaking at the press conference in Honiara after the expedition, Dr Sarah commended the important contributions of Dr Patrick Pikacha, David Boseto and Edgar Pollard; “Since graduating from USP they have gone on to further study and work both here and overseas in Australia and the United States, but their commitment and passion for conservation work in the Solomon Islands has been paramount. These three young men have played a major role in getting this expedition off the ground, and were instrumental in fostering networking and mentoring relationships between the international scientists and the new generation of young Solomon Islands scientists that joined us in the field,” she said.
Another objective of the expedition was to strengthen the Uluna-Sutahuri tribal people customary relationships with their traditional dwelling areas as it held sacred places of origin and cultural power and practice.
Noelyne Biliki, of the Uluna-Sutahuri tribe reminisced about her childhood spent in the mountains; adding that the expedition served as a memorable experience for the elders in reconnecting with the land they grew up on, and for the young people, a chance to visit their former dwelling land and experience its abundance of plant and animal life.
The scientific team was multidisciplinary, comprising 34 scientists across 7 main taxonomic groups: plants, mammals, birds, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians.
The seven IAS-USP specialist scientists that were part of the expedition were Marika Tuiwawa (plants), Alifereti Naikatini (mammals), Dr Sarah Pene (ferns), Bindiya Rashni (aquatic invertebrates), Tokasaya Cakacaka (insects) and Lekima Copeland (freshwater fish).
The final member of the Fiji contingent was Dr Hilda Waqa of the Fiji Forestry Department (specialist in beetles), a recent PhD graduate of USP.
The expedition was done in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History, the Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership (SICCP), the Solomon Islands government with the Uluna-Sutahari landowning tribe members as guides, and funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and USP’s Research Office.
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