In the 1950s, the Foundation made an initial grant toward an ecological survey of the Mau-Mara Area of Masailand, East Africa, contingent upon additional funds being raised to complete the project. These were obtained from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Conservation Foundation. The area in question lies just north of the famous Serengeti Plains. The Mau forest in particular was under serious threat of destruction. The primary objective of the project was to provide guidelines for improved habitat management.
A grant to Connecticut College in 1972 helped finance the second resurvey of vegetation transects in the Bolleswood Natural Area of the Connecticut Arboretum. Initiated in 1952, this long-range study has now been in progress for over fifty years and is yielding significant results.
Grants to William J. Robbins, recently retired as director of the New York Botanical Garden, and his colleague Annette Hervey enabled them to continue their productive research on plant tissue cultures for a few additional years.
On a trip to Mexico, Hubert W. Vogelmann observed that some of the vegetated mountain ranges were adequately supplied with moisture in contrast to comparable deforested slopes that were barren deserts. A grant from the Foundation enabled him to establish weather stations on the mountains which gathered data showing clearly that significant quantities of water were being condensed from fogs passing across the vegetated slopes during the dry season, whereas no such capture occurred on denuded terrain. This clearly demonstrated that the wide-spread deforestation of such areas was creating irreversible changes that are an ecological disaster.
The ecology of the upper canopy of tropical forests has been inadequately studied due to difficulty of access. In 1987, a grant to Melvin T. Tyree, which was matched four-to-one by the Lintilhac Foundation, resulted in developing a mechanical solution to the problem — a large tower crane. One was rented with funds contributed through the United Nations Environmental Program for studies in a dry tropical forest on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama. Some of the results have been published.
An example of how a very small amount of money can go a long way was a grant of $350 to support a study of the wading bird colony at Dom Doi in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam. This covered the expenses of travel, food, lodging and supplies for a student from Hanoi University for six months! The objectives of the project included obtaining data on the stability of the colony, strengthening the conservation program in the area, emphasizing the importance of the colony to the local officials, and encouraging the reserve wardens and increasing their effectiveness. As a by-product, it served to train a Vietnamese student in science and conservation.
In 1993 Patrick Gonzalez undertook a study of the African Sahel of western Senegal in relation to its human carrying capacity. The Sahel is the arid sub-Saharan vegetation zone that extends all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. It is a vast savanna of annual grasses sprinkled with scattered, thorny, deciduous trees. Here hunger and overpopulation are inextricably linked. Over the past 25 years per capita food production has declined by more that ten percent. The study area was a 3000 square mile tract, its western boundary the Atlantic Ocean north of Dakar. In the course of his research, Gonzalez systematically covered the area on foot — a hike of about 1200 miles, visiting 135 villages, interviewing the inhabitants and making an inventory of the vegetation. The Foundation financed the purchase of aerial photos which were essential to the project. Some of his findings measure the extent of desertification, including the vegetation zones shifting southward by about 0.37 mile per year. There has also been a very significant decline in the number of tree species and their density. In a sustainable economy the rural population is dependent upon these woody species for fuel, building materials and medicinal uses. Factors involved in these changes include droughts, population pressure (the population has doubled in the past 22 years), and colonial exploitation which has encouraged the cultivation of export crops, such as peanuts, rather than native foods, and reforestation with trees poorly adapted to the climate.