Why are scientific
studies of Ghana's biodiversity needed?
Ghana's forests are recognized as among the most
depleted and fragmented in the world. Less than 15% of
original forest cover remains and this is under
significant threat. Illegal logging is widespread and
blatant and pressures from mining interests are
significant, including within the boundaries of existing
forest reserves. Rural communities continue to rely
heavily on forest products, and forest reserves show ever
more damage from internal degradation and encroachment
by local village farmers.
In general, the Afrotropics have not inspired the same
concerted research attention as their Neotropical and
Indo-Malayan counterparts. Studies of ecosystems in
Africa are few and the western section of the continent
has been particularly neglected. This pervasive
knowledge gap hinders efforts to mitigate the impact of
human activities on the unique ecosystems of West Africa and the species they harbor.
Why are sacred forest groves
In Ghana, sacred groves constitute the bulk of the 1% of
forest that remains outside existing forest reserves.
Sacred groves are indigenous reserves that have been
strictly protected, in some cases for centuries, because
of their spiritual and cultural significance.
Originally, these sacred lands were embedded in large
continuous blocks of forest. Now they dot the landscape
as highly isolated relict patches of forest surrounded
by man-made savanna and developed areas. These long-protected patches of forest are likely to count as
important refugia for forest specialists, nuclei for
ecosystem recovery, and stepping stones that help link
the widely scattered forest reserves.
The traditional respect that has served to protect
sacred forest groves is rapidly disappearing. Many of
these long-protected indigenous reserves are highly
degraded and in imminent threat of complete
destruction. Scientific study of sacred groves
heightens public and governmental awareness and this
increased attention can help prevent their loss.
Why study butterflies?
Butterflies are excellent models for evaluating the
status of natural communities in degraded landscapes,
especially where knowledge is needed to help steer
conservation efforts in the survey area. They show a
wide range of sensitivity to
environmental change, are tightly intertwined with
ecological systems as both consumers and food items, and
are easily collected and identified. They are also
showy and charismatic and can elicit the emotional
concern necessary to bring about conservation action in
the face of conflicting socioeconomic priorities.
We are far from understanding butterfly diversity of
West Africa. Much of what is currently known has
been summarized by Dr. Torben Larsen in preparation for
his recently published book,
Butterflies of West Africa.
Approximately 900 butterfly species occur in Ghana and
an estimated 5% have yet to be discovered. From the
perspective of natural histories, relative abundances,
species' associations, and community dynamics in
fragmented landscapes, so few empirical data exist that
nearly all information collected represents new
The Ghana Butterfly
Biodiversity Project is
part of an intended ongoing study of the butterfly fauna
of West Africa. The primary goal of this core project
is to document all butterfly species occurring in Ghana
and their population status and natural histories, and
to establish the impact of forest fragmentation and
depletion on forest butterfly communities. Field
activities associated with the initial 3-year project
centered on systematic, yearlong inventories of the
fruit-feeding butterflies at two forest reserves and
five sacred groves located in the moist semi-deciduous
forest zone. Much in-country field effort was also
devoted to intensive 'spot' surveys of understudied
forest reserves in the wet evergreen and moist evergreen
forest zones, and the compilation of information on
species' biology, with an emphasis on caterpillar
'search and rear' efforts.
The Ghana Butterfly
has been a collaboration between multiple countries,
institutions, professionals, and scientific disciplines
and has included a significant educational and training
- Compile spatial and temporal inventory and
natural history data to narrow the knowledge gap
that currently exists for forest butterflies of
- Investigate how forest fragmentation impacts
communities of forest-dependent butterfly species.
- Database and collate all information and images
on an online searchable website to ensure broad
availability of project products.
- Establish a molecular 'barcode' library of adult
vouchered mtDNA sequences for species collected in
the study and a molecular 'repository' for future
- Work with host-country scientists and
governmental officials to solidify a permanent
repository of biotic resources in the host country.
- Provide professional and educational
opportunities for U.S. and Ghanaian scientists,
citizens, and students.
- Generate a reference framework for future
analytical research in molecular biology, ecology,
evolution and systematics.
The upper Guinean forests of Ghana are recognized as
among the most biologically unique in the world because
they harbor a wide diversity of plant and animal species,
many of which are found nowhere else. But these
are also among the most critically threatened forests in
the world. Only about 10-15% of original forest
cover has not been destroyed and what remains is highly
fragmented and degraded. With the exception of
sacred forest groves, virtually no forest cover remains
outside the boundaries of designated reserves.
Mitigating the threats to these ecosystems and the
species they harbor is difficult because these forests
are also among the least studied and ecologically
understood in the world. Given the widespread
extent of human impacts, we risk losing species that
haven't yet been discovered. Scientific data
are necessary to establish the current status of
forest-dependent species, key threats to their long-term
persistence, and to help guide protective legislation
and strategies for forest restoration.