African Mountain Research Times - June 2018

201806 afromontmainAfroMont is a communication and networking organisation interested in researching the science-policy and science-diplomacy issues relating to African mountains and sustainable mountain development and communicating findings. Afromont also aims to showcase experiences from research, field projects and best practice in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation in African countries.

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[Photo SJ Taylor. Artificial trout pond in foothills near central Drakensberg Amphitheatre, South Africa. December 2017].

Editorial - The risks to African mountains

Afromont was asked recently to prepare a statement about risk in African mountains. There is the pessimist’s view and the optimist’s view, but I think somewhere in the middle there is cause for serious concern about the trends for Africa’s mountains. Most African countries have nature-based economies, yet are not investing nearly enough to protect ‘nature’ effectively. These natural ‘assets’ include mountains, wetlands, grasslands, soils, forests, water catchments, species, ecosystems, and even traditional ways of managing these, all of which are under pressure. This means a growing risk to both biodiversity and people. The consequences is that, when all the natural resources are gone, all African will have is two billion pairs of hands with no work for them to do. This is not a statement to make lightly.

These risks include the well-known challenges of human population increases, agricultural expansion (commercial and subsistence), land degradation and unregulated land use change. We have known about these threats for 60 years, but have been unable to counter them. There are similar risks to African mountains. Other challenges in Africa include the rapid increase in the size of African cities, along with the increase in needs (food, energy and water), and the need for economic development and industrialization. These activities often proceed without proper environmental and social impact assessments. These threats are becoming critical now as all these factors begin to collide with climate change. While the newly emerging middle class will probably continue with a good quality of life, those who will experience greater impoverishment are many. They include the marginalized subsistence farmers and disempowered river users, the artisanal fisher folk, the hidden forest people and the people in remote mountain areas who will find their livelihoods vanished, stolen by desperate need, climate change and careless local elites.

Climate change as a significant risk to mountain biodiversity

The message for conservationists, as we all know, is that climate change is an emerging, significant, and complex threat to biodiversity in this century (Minteer and Collins, 2012). While it may be possible to ‘adapt’ the world’s cities and farming, it will be very difficult to ‘adapt’ biodiversity and natural ecosystems (Gallagher et al, 2015). This threat will apply in African mountains, as well as the landscapes that connect mountain ecosystems with each other. In time, mountain ecosystems isolated by agriculture and human development will stall in terms of gene exchange and ongoing evolution, leading to an impoverished mountain ecosystems and local extinctions. To perform any kind of ‘rescue’ of natural ecosystems affected by climate change, very detailed biological research is needed to ensure that the investments in ‘adapting’ natural ecosystems pay off (Gallagher et al, 2015). If substantial investments in these types of interventions are made, the newly intervened landscapes have to be very well managed and monitored to reap the benefits. The resources (skills and funding) have to be available for many decades, and I am not sure that we are seeing enough preparation for this type of intervention in Africa, funded by African governments. This in itself is a risk.

Other activities and research

There are many good projects and initiatives underway in African countries that research and protect the natural environment, develop people and promote ‘sustainability’. Because of the critical need for water, the management of these types of catchments with their mountain ‘water towers’ is becoming a major issue for African countries, and this benefits mountain landscapes. To name a few of these endeavors, the Kenyan Water Towers Agency has been set up in Kenya to manage mountain catchments and landscapes in Kenya. In South Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is doing new mapping of the mountain catchments to aid better catchment management. Many good projects are implemented by international NGOs working in Africa (Oxfam, WWF, Birdlife Africa, IUCN), as well as by many local NGOs and CBOs. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), designed to address the current challenges facing the African continent, also supports a programme on Sustainable Land Management (SLM), and this also benefits the management of mountain landscapes. The Swiss government, through the Swiss Development and Cooperation agency (SDC) is funding an international programme on Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD), linked to the goals and indicators of the UN SDG. AfroMont, along with ARCOS (Albertine Rift Conservation Society) have played a role in developing resources for the SMD programme in Africa.

GALLAGHER et al 2015. Assisted colonization as a climate change adaptation tool. Austral Ecology 40: 12 – 20.
MINTEER, B. A. & COLLINS, J. P. 2012. Species Conservation, Rapid Environmental Change, and Ecological Ethics. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):14


Call for Papers: "Symposium on the Impacts of Climate Change on Lake Victoria"
Kampala, Uganda, 3rd-4th December 2018

Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world, and it is surrounded by three East African States: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The Lake Victoria Basin, which also involves Burindi and Rwanda, is one of East Africa’s most prominent landmarks. It not only provides the headwaters of the White Nile, but is also central to the development and regional integration of the East Africa Community.

Lake Victoria is under pressure in a variety of ways. For instance, changes in water levels, increased pressures on land for agricultural use due to population growth, increased demand for water for energy generation and socio-economic development, and the growing trend of moving from rain fed agriculture to irrigation. Added to these problems are those related to climate change such as increases in surface temperature, increasing variability in rainfall patterns, intensive evaporation and changes on the hydrological regime of Lake Victoria and the rivers it is associated with.

Over the past years, a variety of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects have been undertaken across the Lake Victoria Basin. In addition, many investment projects to cope with the problems seen in the region have been performed. But even though many projects and practical initiatives on matters related to climate change are taking place across the Lake Victoria Basin today, there is a paucity of specialist events where climate change mitigation and adaptation studies and projects taking place in the Lake Victorial Basin are presented and discussed with an international audience and in an interdisciplinary way.

It is order to address this need that the „Symposium on the Impacts of Climate Change on Lake Victoria“ is being organised. The event will gather and promote information on climate change initiatives being undertaken by African and non-African organisations and scientists undertaking projects and performing research on climate change in the Lake Victoria Basin.

The experiences from the event will be helpful in COP 24 to be held in Katowice, Poland on 3rd-14th December 2018. At that event, known as "faciltative dialigue", countries are expected to report on progresses since Paris. This Kampala event will provide a solid basis upon which experiences on climate change mitigation and adaptation on the Lake Victoria Basin can be documented and disseminated to a wide audience.

The event is organised by Makerere University (Uganda), the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and the International Climate Change Information Programme, in cooperation with various organisations.

Further details can be seen at:


New Mozambican bat species highlights the important role of ancient mountain-forming processes in the speciation of horseshoe bats

201806 afromont1Weighing only five grams, a newly-discovered dwarf bat from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique has become Africa’s smallest horseshoe bat, according to an article published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society recently. Named Rinolophus gorongosae, the tiny bat appears to occur only within the borders of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and possibly also on nearby Mount Inago. A team of researchers, led by Professor Peter Taylor from the University of Venda in South Africa, made this discovery after a number of bats were captured from two caves in Mozambique. Using modern techniques such as molecular DNA analysis and morphological studies of the skull, nose leaf and penis bone, it was established that, while the dwarf bat was most similar in appearance to Swinny’s bat from South Africa, it was quite distinct in terms of its call frequency, DNA composition and a range of other morphological characteristics. Seeing that this newly-discovered dwarf bat weighs only five gram, this Mozambique resident is now officially Africa’s smallest horseshoe bat.

According to Taylor, the findings highlight the important role of ancient mountain-forming processes in the speciation of horseshoe bats: “This has important conservation implications as it reveals that species have narrower ranges than previously thought, and current threats to mountain habitats, like burning, afforestation, alien invasions and climate change, can greatly increase the extinction risk for these vulnerable species”. The study, “Integrative taxonomy resolves three new cryptic species of small southern African horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus)”, was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society on 24 April 2018.
Caption: Photograph showing the newly described Gorongosa horseshoe bat. Copyright Piotr Naskrecki. Source of press release information: Stellenbosch University, media release
See also: Diversity of bats in the Soutpansberg and Blouberg Mountains of northern South Africa : complementarity of acoustic and non-acoustic survey methods : research article. Peter John Taylor, M. Corrie Schoeman, Ara Monadjem (2013). South African Journal of Wildlife Research. 43: 12 - 26 (2013)


Featured research article: Broken bridges: The isolation of Kilimanjaro’s ecosystem. By Andreas Hemp and Claudia Hemp. Glob Change Biol. 2018; 1–9.

201806 afromont2Abstract: Biodiversity studies of global change mainly focus on direct impacts such as losses in species numbers or ecosystem functions. In this study, we focus on the long-term effects of recent land-cover conversion and subsequent ecological isolation of Kilimanjaro on biodiversity in a paleobiogeographical context, linking our findings with the long-standing question whether colonization of African mountains mainly depended on long-distance dispersal, or whether gradual migration has been possible through habitat bridges under colder climates. For this, we used Orthoptera as bioindicators, whose patterns of endemism and habitat demands we studied on about 500 vegetation plots on Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru (Tanzania) since 1996. Land-cover changes in the same area were revealed using a supervised classification of Landsat images from 1976 to 2000. In 1976, there was a corridor of submontane forest vegetation linking Kilimanjaro with Mt. Meru, replaced by human settlements and agriculture after 2000. Until recently, this submontane forest bridge facilitated the dispersal of forest animals, illustrated by the large number of endemic submontane forest Orthoptera shared by both mountains. Furthermore, the occurrence of common montane endemics suggests the existence of a former forest corridor with montane vegetation during much earlier times under climatic conditions 2–7°C cooler and 400–1,700 mm wetter than today. Based on the endemicity patterns of forest Orthoptera, negative consequences are predicted due to the effects of isolation, in particular for larger forest animals. Kilimanjaro is becoming an increasingly isolated ecosystem with far reaching consequences for diversity and endemism. Forest bridges between East African mountains acted as important migratory corridors and are not only a prehistoric phenomenon during periods with other climatic conditions but also disappeared in some places recently due to increasing and direct anthropogenic impact.

Image by Claudia Hemp, from Claudia Hemp (2017): Annotated Checklist of Orthoptera from Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve, Tanzania with the Description of New Species and Discussion of the Biogeographic Patterns of Threatened Species. Zootaxa. 4226(2); 151–193. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4226.2.1

• Peter Malcolm Johns and Dr Claudia Hemp (2015). Redescription of Libanasa brachyura Karny, 1928. (Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae: ?Lutosinae) from Tanzania and problems at the subfamily level. April 2015. Zootaxa 3946(1):113-24.
• Topography and climatic fluctuations boosting speciation: biogeography and a molecular phylogeny of the East African genera Afroanthracites Hemp & Ingrisch and Afroagraecia Ingrisch & Hemp (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae, Conocephalinae, Agraeciini). Dr Claudia Hemp, Beata Grzywacz, Elżbieta Warchałowska-Śliwaaand Hemp Andreas. Oct 2015. Organisms Diversity & Evolution.
• Review of the genus Lunidia Hemp (Orthoptera: Phaneropteridae) and the description of a new species from the Uluguru Mountains of Tanzania, East Africa. Oct 2017. Journal of Orthoptera Research. Dr Claudia Hemp.


Everything you ever wanted to know about peat and mires

Volume 15 (2014 / 2015) Special Volume: Mountain Peatlands
Guest editors Antoine Cleef, Piet-Louis Grundling and Hans Joosten


Book Review

201806 afromont3The Wetland Book: The Wetland Book Distribution, Description and Conservation Volume II
Edited by Nick C. Davidson, G. Randy Milton, C. Max Finlayson, R. Crawford Prentice

In discussion with Ramsar's Max Finlayson and Nick Davidson, and several members of the Society of Wetland Scientists, Springer is proposing the development of a new Encyclopedia of Wetlands, a comprehensive resource aimed at supporting the trans- and multidisciplinary research and practice which is inherent to this field. Aware both that wetlands research is on the rise and that researchers and students are often working or learning across several disciplines, we are proposing a readily accessible online and print reference which will be the first port of call on key concepts in wetlands science and management. This easy-to-follow reference will allow multidisciplinary teams and transdisciplinary individuals to look up terms, access further details, read overviews on key issues and navigate to key articles selected by experts.

For African wetlands, see GRUNDLING, P. AND GROOTJANS, A. P. (2016). Peatlands of Africa. In: The Wetland Book: II: Distribution, Description and Conservation, 1-10. Springer, Dordrecht