The ecology of Ethiopia is vastly understudied and also degrading rapidly due to human activities. Much of the natural landscape has been cleared for agriculture, with one notable exception: the sacred landscapes surrounding churches. These church forests comprise local as well as global “hotspots” as critical conservation areas for a large portion of Ethiopia’s remaining biodiversity. Vegetation surveys of church forests indicate that church forests house a large proportion of the endangered plant species of Ethiopia. Church forests provide important ecosystem services to local people, including fresh water, pollinators, honey, shade, and spiritual value. In January 2009, we forged a partnership with the Christian Orthodox clergy to conserve their church forests.
We propose two goals: 1. to survey the biodiversity of insects in Ethiopian church forests, creatingÂ relatively inexpensive, replicable protocols that can be utilized by local children; and 2. to fund simple perimeter delineation (aka, fences) thus preventing further shrinkage of church forests from human activities. Further, we will place special focus on assessing the ecosystem services that insects contribute to these remaining fragments of tropical forest ecosystems, creating a strong case for local conservation initiatives. Throughout our field work, we plan to engage local Sunday school children as future stewards of these church forests, utilizing the church infrastructure to educate and inspire local stakeholders about their local biodiversity. Results of the ecological surveys will be published in appropriate international journals, but a conservation plan utilizing the church (especially Sunday school children) as a focal group will also be disseminated, reflecting a culturally-sensitive solution.
Ethiopia Photo Gallery: