Scientists to explore Pacific's highest peak
Scientists have embarked on a survey of the region's highest mountain, Mt Popomanacheu in Solomon Islands.
A team of researchers have embarked on a mission to survey the biodiversity of the region's highest mountain.
At just over 7,000 feet, Mount Popomanaseu in Solomon Islands is the highest peak between Papua New Guinea and the Andes in South America.
Chris Filardi of the American Museum of Natural History, is on his way to the Solomon Islands to take part in the survey, which will help with efforts to manage and conserve the country's unique flora and fauna.
CHRIS FILARDI: You know this is a survey that's sort of capitalising on a pretty magical thing. Often scientists want to travel to remote places around the world, to understand barely known bio-dioversities, find new species, especially encounter species that occur in very small areas like on tiny islands or on the tops of mountains within islands. And this is a case where you have basically this high elevation habitat within a single island, Guadalcanal, that's remained intact and unexplored that not only is really important and interesting to biologists but it's really important to local people and sacred to them. So the real purpose of this survey is a step towards a broader conservation strategy that reflects these historical, sacred relationships that people have with this area, and tries to use biology at least as part of an engine to maintain their control over those places and stewardship of them into the future.
KOROI HAWKINS: And what sort of flora and fauna are you expecting to find up this mountain? I'm assuming you've been up there for preliminary surveys.
CF: yeah, it's a remarkable place. There's an incredibly mysterious and beautiful kingfisher that's found in these forests and nowhere else on earth. Scientists have only encountered it a couple of times over the past century. No one really knows what it sounds like. However local people have incredible stories associated with the bird and there are six or seven other species found in these forests and nowhere else in the world. The honey-eater that is incredibly vocal and has these beautiful wattles off their cheeks. Scenes like nothing else anywhere else in the Solomon Islands. Just a few kilometres down in the lowlands, you'll never encounter this bird, and you go up into the edges of these sort of sky island habitats that are above the hot, humid lowlands and you encounter these birds that are found no where else. There are a couple of butterflies up there; there are certainly frogs that scientists haven't named yet. I think historically local people had names for all of these things but unfortunately along with a lack of scientific knowledge there's been a lack of local engagement with these areas just because they're far away. And in the late 1970s and early 80s, people left these areas to go and sort of seek better medical services and other government services down in the lowlands. And really this is sort of a return to these places where local folks can encounter all these incredible organisms that you just don't encounter anywhere outside of the high elevation hill and montagne forest.
KH: The surveys have started and you're on your way there now, what are the first lot of surveys looking at?
CF: The initial work is.. a lot of it is really just getting up to do a good job surveying. So things like, these are incredible remote areas, there are no trails there. So it's just setting up a space in the trail so people can survey organisms at night for instance, without just some flag areas where you can follow routes during the day and then repeat them in the black of night, you won't be able to survey things like frogs or nocturnal insects, which is very, very important in terms of understanding the ecology of the area. Also, setting up areas where we'll do both sound and visual observations of birds. And also the whole forest. We're going to do recordings of what we call soundscapes. Often we think about, you know, organisms, birds, insects, frogs, threatened by extinction or the communities of organisms which vanished because of hunting or logging. One of the things that actually impacted very rapidly in a way that is sort of under-appreciated are soundscapes, what these places sound like before invasive species get there, before roads get there, before forests get opened up, and understanding how these places sound and how those sounds change over time through human contact, through climate change, which is a growing part of the ecology. So we're setting up these sound stations up in the forests to be able to monitor that as well. So it's a lot of set-up during these early days.
KH: Why is this exciting and important for you at the American Museum of Natural History?
CF: You know, just about one hundred years ago, a team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History were on a ship-based expedition around the Pacific and arrived in the Solomons and climbed into these forests and just about reached the elevations we got to. What they found, in some ways, changed all of modern science: the patterns of unique organisms or endemism, the differences among islands were really earth-changing for those early scientists. And the legacy they left in science was huge and enduring. The amazing thing about being able to go back with the American museum and in partnership with local people and the government is that we can come back and have another huge impact on science, I am sure. But more importantly have this broader societal impact that is really led by and for local people, who have lived in these places for as long as there have been people.
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