Documenting Diversity: the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment

by Charles Hedgcock

 

During the revolution Martín Luis Guzmán rode the train through Navojoa and looked over at the sierra and felt what we all do when we see its green folds rising up off the desert. We all wonder what is up there and in some part of us, that rich part where our mind plays beyond our commands, we all dread and lust for what is up there.

Charles Bowden, The Secret Forest

 

In 2009 the Tucson based environmental group “Sky Island Alliance” launched a visionary initiative to explore, document and protect one of the world’s premier biodiversity hotspots, the Madrean Archipelago of the North American continent. This 70,000 square-mile region of sky-island mountain ranges, surrounded by “seas” of desertscrub and grasslands, straddles the borderlands of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

Commonly referred to as the Sky Islands, the Madrean Archipelago is a globally unique region where several major biogeographic provinces overlap, creating a region of biological richness found nowhere else on Earth.  This richness caused Conservation International to name the region one of the world’s Biodiversity Hotspots in 2004.  Despite its proximity to the U.S. border, the Mexican portion of this remote and rugged area has received little biological study; thus the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA) was born, an international effort to study a globally important region.

Arizona Walking Stick

Arizona Walking Stick. © Charles Hedgcock

With support from U.S. and Mexican experts in the fields of botany, entomology, ornithology, herpetology, mammalogy, and other disciplines, MABA expeditions are truly international and provide an opportunity to collect critical biodiversity data, foster graduate and undergraduate research, raise awareness about conservation in the region and develop important relationships with landowners, and land managers, on both sides of the border.

I have had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the MABA expeditions as the lead photographer since its inception. I often accompany a herpetologist into the field and provide photographic vouchers of the reptiles and amphibians we encounter. In addition, I document habitat types and capture images of the biologist at work.

After a day in the field, I continue to photograph herpetological, botanical, and entomological specimens brought back to camp by other teams of biologists. These animals must all be photographed that evening so that they may be returned, unharmed, to their point of capture the next morning. My images not only help document the diversity of life found in these remote mountain ranges, but also help to tell the story of this amazing project, its expeditions, and the many people involved.

Major findings from MABA expeditions include the discovery ofseveral new plant species as well as documenting many plant species previously unknown to the state of Sonora. MABA entomologists continue to make new discoveries, documenting more than 10 species of invertebrates that are new to science. Range extensions for a variety of species are frequently recorded.

Green Ratsnake

Green Ratsnake; Sonora, Mexico. © Charles Hedgcock

One of the greatest achievements of the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment has been the development of a growing, online database of biodiversity. It is a remarkable natural history tool that provides access to the region’s foremost collection of specimen records and species observations for anyone seeking to learn more about the Sky Islands. This database currently contains nearly 78,000 animal records and almost 35,000 plant records for the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua.  These data represent the products of MABA research expeditions as well as data from herbaria, museum collections, agencies and scientific literature. The database (www.madrean.org) is freely accessible to all.

 

Charles Hedgcock will share his experiences working with the MABA project and discuss some of the techiques he uses to document the amazing diversity of life found during the numerous MABA expeditions at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this program and others like it, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Pantanal, Story and photograph by Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures.com

D440260We hear all the time that little things make a difference.Sometimes it’s hard to believe; other times, it couldn’t ring truer. Throughout my career I’ve combined photography with conservation, since a concern for our planet and its inhabitants has always been important to me. For the past few years, the Natural Exposures Invitational Photo Tours has taken guests to the Pantanal in the wilds of Brazil. Here, we do our best to incorporate the same philosophy of integrating photography and conservation, much like any of our travel destinations. Continue reading

Web of Water: Four NANPA Members Collaborate for Conservation

Web of Water

Web of Water

 

Check out The Web of Water Project – A Collaboration between NANPA Members jon holloway, Ben Geer Keys, Clay Bolt, and Tom Blagden 

The Web of Water project is a unique partnership with Upstate Forever, Fujifilm, Hub City Press renowned writer John Lane, photographers jon holloway, Ben Geer Keys, Clay Bolt, and Tom Blagden and corporate sponsors. The goal of highlighting through fine art photography the beauty, fragility, and critical importance of the Saluda-Reedy watershed and Lake Greenwood was a five year undertaking.

The Web of Water project tells the story of the watershed and those that depend on it for food, water, business, or recreation. A unique combination of beautiful and alarming images raise awareness about the watershed’s importance to the surrounding landscape and communities, current threats to the watershed’s health, and steps that citizens can take to preserve this precious natural resource in their midst.

This project will provide Upstate Forever with new opportunities to educate the community. Photography is one of the most powerful communication tools in assigning a higher sense of value to our environment. Often in the field of research, the visual connection between science and community is the untold story. This project will help bridge the gap and become a catalyst for community responsibility, awareness of cause and effect, and provide the public with unique opportunity to directly make a difference in the future of South Carolina.

www.webofwaterbook.com

 

Here are a few images from the Web of Water Project:

 

Eastern newt, Jones Gap State park, Image by Tom Blagden

Eastern newt, Jones Gap State park, Image by Tom Blagden

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Photographer Project: Saving Serengeti, Story and photographs by Boyd Norton

NortonSerengeti-1331Serengeti—it’s one of the most famous names in the world, an icon of wild places.

The Serengeti ecosystem, almost 10,000 square miles in area, includes Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and adjacent reserves such as Loliondo, Maswa, Ikorongo, Grumeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara. It is one of the few large, protected ecosystems left on earth. Each year, more than two million animals—wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores—migrate from the eastern plains through central Serengeti and northward to Masai Mara and back, in a search for water and fresh grasses. It is the largest land mammal migration on earth.

NortonSerengeti-1333I’ve been traveling to the Serengeti ecosystem annually for 30 years, leading photo tours, and working on book and magazine assignments. I always assumed that national park and World Heritage Site designations would protect this ecosystem. I was wrong.

In May 2010 I learned from Masai friends that the Tanzanian government planned a major commercial highway that would cut across the northern part of the park like a knife wound. Hundreds of trucks would speed daily from Lake Victoria in the west to the Indian Ocean coast. In addition to cutting off the migration route, the highway would become an avenue for poachers.

Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater, TanzaniaWithin days of my discovery, I contacted a handful of other frequent Serengeti travelers and we started a Facebook page, Stop the Serengeti Highway. Word spread, and today that page has more than 60,000 followers worldwide. In addition, ecotourism consultant Dave Blanton and I started a tax-deductible non-profit called Serengeti Watch to rally support to save Serengeti and to inform select news media around the globe about the threat. Click the link to join and/or make a donation.

In December 2010, Richard Engel of NBC News traveled to Serengeti. He uncovered the culprit funding the highway: China. Engel asserted that China was after coltan, an important mineral in cell phones, and certain rare-earth minerals.

NortonSerengeti-1339The situation has grown more complex because of oil in Uganda and South Sudan. Plans are now being discussed by the Tanzanian government for a “transportation corridor” that might include a railroad as well as a highway. Either would mark the end of the migration and the total unravelling of the Serengeti ecosystem.

Serengeti Watch has proposed an alternate southern route, one that bypasses Serengeti entirely. Parts of this road already exist and are being upgraded for major transport. The Tanzanian government has ignored funding offers for a southern route, and to date the Serengeti Highway remains a threat.

Dawn, wildebeest and acacia tree, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya.Building local support is vital. Through donations, Serengeti Watch has made educational grants locally to raise awareness about the importance of preserving Serengeti. The overall aim is to fund projects in media and education that encourage young Tanzanians to become involved in conservation. Through photography, journalism, video and social media, Serengeti Watch will give local people the ability to communicate the importance of protecting their reserves and parks.

This may be the best way to protect Serengeti for the future.

Boyd Norton is the author/photographer of 16 books. His most recent, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning, has received accolades from primatologist and researcher Jane Goodall and Richard Engel of NBC News, among others. For more than 45 years Boyd has used his photography and writing to save and protect wilderness and wildlife worldwide, testifying at numerous congressional hearings. He has served on the Board of Trustees for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. He is a Fellow of NANPA, a former NANPA board member, charter Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and founder and Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers. His next photo safari to Serengeti will be in February, 2015. www.boydnorton.com; www.wildernessphotography.com. See a recent legal development: http://newsle.com/article/0/162431923/

Revealing and Reveling in the Beauty of Native North American Bees and Wasps – Story and Photographs © Clay Bolt

Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visits a Black-eye

A Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visits a Black-eyed Susan.

Since Niall Benvie and I first developed Meet Your Neighbours in 2009 I’ve seen my fair share of amazing, beautiful and sometimes bizarre creatures. From the beginning, I’ve worked almost exclusively in the land that surrounds my home near the Southern Appalachians in upstate South Carolina, USA. Rather naïvely, I suspected that after a short period of time I would begin to run out of subjects to photograph but nothing could be further from the truth. Seldom does a day go by that I don’t see a creature or plant that I’ve never seen before in the wild, anywhere! As Piotr Naskrecki points out in his fantastic book The Smaller Majority, “Over 99% of life on Earth is smaller than your finger.” It’s little wonder then that the careful observer will be awarded with a lifetime of discovery.

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PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Headhunt Revisited by Michele Westmorland

Painting by Caroline Mytinger. A young girl in dance costume, sorceress named Kori Toboro, wearing a net bag. Motuan village of Hanuabada, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Courtesy of Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley.

Painting by Caroline Mytinger. A young girl in dance costume, sorceress named Kori Toboro, wearing a net bag. Motuan village of Hanuabada, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Courtesy of Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley.

In 1926, painter Caroline Mytinger and her friend, Margaret Warner, set out from San Francisco for a four-year adventure in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. With little more than $400, a few art supplies, and a trunk of clothing, they made their way through what was then known as the land of headhunters, with the goal of painting Melanesia’s inhabitants. Their journey was nothing short of amazing and, at times, fraught with danger. Mosquitoes engorged with blood had to be snipped off with scissors; cockroaches the size of hummingbirds chewed on their toes. They ran into male explorers who assumed they were the first to delve into the remote Fly River Territory—and who were shocked to find two very petite young women from America in this seemingly hostile environment. A storm almost washed away all of Caroline’s painting supplies, and a volcanic eruption threatened to destroy the artwork. Upon the women’s return to the United States in 1930, Caroline’s paintings were exhibited in notable museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York. After 1935, the paintings were crated away, not to be seen until 2004, when they were discovered at UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology by NANPA photographer Michele Westmorland. Continue reading

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: For Every Fallen Wolf by Weldon Lee

(Canis lupus) captive animal; Kalispell, Montana (c) Weldon Lee

(Canis lupus) captive animal; Kalispell, Montana (c) Weldon Lee

Story and photograph by Weldon Lee

Prejudice is not limited to religion and racial ethnicity. It also finds targets among our wild brothers and sisters, not the least being the gray wolf. Wolf eradication can be traced back to the Middle Ages in Europe. It’s not surprising that it lifted its ugly head again as Europeans began arriving in the New World.

According to PBS, “By the middle of the twentieth century, government-sponsored extermination had wiped out nearly all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. Only a small population remained in northeastern Minnesota and Michigan.” This came about as a result of wealthy livestock owners wielding their influence over policymakers in Washington, D.C., and demanding a wider grazing range.

In spite of Congress providing protection for wolves under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, wolves are still being killed.

The endangered species protection for gray wolves was repealed in six states. What followed over the last two years was the killing of more than 2,600 wolves. Now the government wants to delist gray wolves in practically the entire Lower 48. Continue reading

Metamorphosis by Robin Moore

 

Metamorphosis-8307

Story and Photographs by Robin Moore

Metamorphosis spawned out of a conversation I had one day in early 2012 with conservationist Gabby Wild. We were discussing the difficulties of raising concern for the plight of the most threatened group of all vertebrates, the amphibians, and committed to concocting a publicity campaign. We wanted to do something different, something that would make people look twice, or see amphibians in a new light. A few months later, we were in a studio in Los Angeles decorating a body-painted Gabby with live frogs and newts.

In my time as an amphibian biologist and a photographer I have shot (with a camera) a lot of frogs, but this shoot was different. Rather than wading mosquito-riddled swamps or hacking through thick jungle to find and photograph elusive frogs in their natural habitat, I was bringing them into the controlled environment of a studio and shooting them against the canvas of the human body. In doing so, I had to learn a whole new way of shooting. Instead of finding or waiting for the right light, I had to craft my own, and instead of patiently waiting for the action to unfold in front of me, I had to conceptualize and create compositions around a theme. It was both testing and creatively invigorating.  Continue reading

An Editor’s Perspective: Photography by Kevin Schafer

 

Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) WILD, Mother and baby swimming through flooded forest, Rio Negro, Amazonia, Brazil

Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) WILD, Mother and baby swimming through flooded forest, Rio Negro, Amazonia, Brazil

Images by Kevin Schafer

Story and Gallery Edit By Miriam Stein

Let’s face it – Kevin Schafer has proved himself in the world of nature photography. His patience and dedication allows him to catch the moments in photography that we all dream of. Over the last few years, Kevin has circled the globe for his “Empty Ark” project, the goal of which is to photograph endangered species whose stories have never been told. I find it most important that Kevin is photographing these species, firstly because they are not the iconic polar bears, tigers, etc. Secondly, he is photographing them in their natural habitats and this is important because there may come a day when photographs are all we have left to remember these species.

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About Kevin Schafer:

Kevin Schafer is an award-winning natural history photographer, whose photographs appear in all of the major science and nature publications in the US, including National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History and National Wildlife. He also works regularly with conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, and is a founding Fellow of the Int’l League of Conservation Photographers.

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Climate Change

Text and photos by Gary Braasch

 

R/V Nathaniel Palmer, largest research icebreaker of the US National Science Foundation, cruises through small ice in pre-dawn light near the Palmer Station, Antarctic Peninsula, April 1999.

R/V Nathaniel Palmer, the largest research icebreaker of the US National Science Foundation, cruises through small ice in pre-dawn light near the Palmer Station, Antarctic Peninsula, April 1999. Braasch’s first trip to Antarctica yielded this image, which became the opening spread in Discover magazine.

It’s been sixteen years since I was sitting in a tent on the foggy Alaska tundra with fellow photographer Gerry Ellis and had the idea to photograph climate change science. It might have been just an idle idea borne of boredom.  But, using my connections from previous assignments documenting nature science and after a review of what scientists were learning about global warming but which was not being well photographed, I broached the idea with some editors.  Continue reading