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CWAC, CAR and the VMs

Coordinated Waterbird counts (CWAC)
The Coordinated Waterbird Counts project (CWAC) was launched in 1992 as part of South Africa’s commitment to international waterbird conservation. It consists of regular counts of all waterbirds at a large number of South African wetlands, typically with at least two counts per year (one in summer and one in winter). As with SABAP2, CWAC counts are conducted by volunteers; people and organisations with a passion for waterbird conservation. It is one of the largest and most successful citizen science programs in Africa, providing much needed data for waterbird conservation. Currently the project monitors over 400 wetlands around the country, and curates waterbird data for over 600 sites, including wetlands in Kenya.

CWAC data are uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the IWC and AEWA as part of South Africa’s commitment to these important programmes. To date there have been 6431 downloads of the CWAC dataset/or parts thereof from GBIF.

In 2019, the CWAC continued to build on the 27 years of waterbird count data collection. A total of 378 surveys at 160 sites were conducted throughout South Africa. 153 species were surveyed, counting 634,016 birds.

The birds of Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast National Park, were counted for the 44th successive year, with summer and winter counts dating back to 1975. We thank Brian Van der Walt and Dave Whitelaw for their contribution to this massive dataset, having participated since the very beginning. Other notable long-term counters include Prof. Les Underhill, Dr Rene Navarro and Peter Nupen. For the last few years, Linda and Eddie Du Plessis have assisted with the coordination of CWAC, and we thank them for their efforts and enthusiasm for the project. Sadly, Eddie passed away in 2019.

Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR)
The Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts project started in 1993 with the aim of monitoring Blue Crane and Denham’s Bustard populations. The project grew to include a list of 36 large and conspicuous bird species. CAR counts take place twice a year (mid-summer and mid-winter) across South Africa along set road routes. In 2019, birds were counted along 98 routes.

Some project participants have submitted a summary of the population trends from their routes to the special citizen science edition of Ostrich. The data also have been used in several conservation assessments, and formed the basis of Dr Sally Hofmeyr’s PhD.

Virtual Museum (VM)
The Virtual Museum (VM) is a database system and web front-end designed to provide a platform for citizen scientists to contribute to science driven biodiversity projects. A key advantage over competing databases is that submitted records are identified and vetted online by a panel of experts. Taxon-specific VMs serve as repositories for the long-term curation of distributional data sets. These data are made freely available in the form of maps and lists through the internet. VMs have been used as the platform for national Conservation Assessments of reptiles, butterflies, mammals and birds.

Established by the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) in 2005 as part of the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment, the VM platform was cloned in 2007 to be used in the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment. Maintaining and developing parallel platforms was a challenge, so in 2010 a new multiproject VM-platform was launched, which has been continuously enhanced and it is still in use today. In 2017, the then Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof. Anton le Roex, asked the Fitz to negotiate with the ADU to provide a long-term home for the ADU databases, including the VMs, SABAP, CAR, CWAC and SAFRING. This was mainly contingent on finding funding to cover the salaries of the two data managers responsible for maintaining these databases. Fortunately, twoy ears of funding support was provided by DEA, through SANBI, to sustain the projects from March 2018 to February 2020, and from 1 January 2018 they were moved to the Fitz.

Currently the VM hosts 17 biodiversity projects: BirdPix (bird pictures archive); BOP (odd plumages of birds). PHOWN (photos of weaver nests), and 14 atlases: DungBeetleMAP (dung beetles, Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). EchinoMAP (African Echinoderms: sea stars, sea urchins and brittle stars), FishMAP (freshwater fish in southern and eastern Africa), FrogMAP (African frogs), LacewingMAP (African Neuroptera and Megaloptera), MushroomMAP (South African mushrooms), OdonataMAP (African Odonata), OrchidMAP (African orchids), LepiMAP (African Lepidoptera), ReptileMAP (African reptiles), ScorpionMAP (African scorpions), SpiderMAP (African spiders), MammalMAP (African mammals), and TreeMAP (South African trees).

Project manager, Rene Navarro, also maintains RePhotoSA for the Plant Conservation Unit, and is helping to set up a citizen-science platform for Prof. Claire Spottiswoode’s honeyguide group; he also processes data requests for the VM, CAR and CWAC.

The VM has proven to be a very successful tool for collecting occurrence data across most projects and despite the lack of project-specific facilitators, there has been steady growth of the total number of records uploaded by citizen scientists. The VM currently holds about 1.1 million open access records (48.8% contributed by citizen scientists), and another 0.7 million nonsharable records.

2019 publications
Three papers were published in Biodiversity Observations during 2019. The steady growth in the number of records uploaded by Citizen Scientists each year over the last decade across all VM projects

Project manager and developer:
Dr René Navarro

Project coordinators:
BirdPix & BOP: Emeritus Prof. Les Underhill (ADU, UCT)
DungBeetleMAP & LacewingMAP: Dr Mervyn Mansel (UP)
EchinoMAP: Emeritus Prof. Charles Griffiths (Biological Sciences, UCT)
FrogMAP and ReptileMAP: Dr Darren Pietersen (Tikki Hywood Foundation)
LepiMAP: Steve Woodhall (Lepidoptera Society)
MushroomMAP: Dr Marieka Gryzenhout (University of the Free State)
OdonataMAP: Dr Megan Lotftie-Eaton (ADU, UCT)
OrchidMAP: Prof. Craig Peter (Rhodes University)
PHOWN: Dr Dieter Oschadleus (BDI)
ScorpionMAP and SpiderMAP: Dr Ian Engelbrecht (SANBI)
MammalMAP and TreeMAP: no coordinator