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Why we explored an undisturbed rainforest hidden on top of an African mountain

Written by Simon Willcock, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Bangor University and Phil Platts, Research Fellow, University of York. Atop Mount Lico in northern Mozambique is a site that few have had the pleasure of seeing – a hidden rainforest, protected by a steep circle of rock. Though the mountain was known to locals, the forest itself remained a secret until six years ago, when Julian Bayliss spotted it on satellite imagery. It wasn’t until last year, however, that he revealed his discovery, at the Oxford Nature Festival. We recently visited the 700 metre-high mountaintop rainforest in an expedition organised by Bayliss, in collaboration with Mozambique’s Natural History Museum and National Herbarium. As far as anyone knew (including the locals), we would be the first people to set foot there (spoiler: we weren’t). Since the rainforest’s discovery, Lico has received worldwide attention. That it captured the public’s imagination speaks volumes about how...
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Honey Hunting: An Age-Old Tradition Meets Modern Threats

[caption id="attachment_3654" align="alignright" width="300"] Apis Laboriosa, the Himalayan giant honey bee, is the largest honeybee in the world. Photo: Niraj Karki.Wild honey from Apis Laboriosa, the Himalayan giant honey bee, has been gathered by Gurung people from cliffs in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal for centuries. Apis Laboriosa is the largest honeybee in the world, and is referred to as ‘Bheer-Mauri’ in Nepali, which directly translates into ‘cliff bee.’ It is crucial for pollinating wild flora and crops in the mountains. The Gurung people across many parts of Nepal, especially the Kaski and Lamjung Districts, value their tradition of honey hunting as part of their lifestyle, and collect honey twice a year during the spring and autumn. The honey they gather is prized due to both its medicinal properties and monetary worth.Every year, during the start of the spring or autumn season, the local Shaman (priest or the elder of the tribe) of...
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Running off the road

[caption id="attachment_3639" align="alignright" width="400"] Mountain roads – and the cars and people on them – facilitate non-native species movement up to high elevations. Here: Davos, Switzerland It is a familiar pattern by now, confirmed over and over in virtually all mountain regions we study: roads are facilitating the introduction of non-native plant species into mountains. Humans introduce – on purpose or by accident – new species in the valleys, and from there they start spreading uphill. On their way towards high elevations, mountain roads serve as a great highway. But with increasing elevation, fewer and fewer non-natives will be found, as they progressively drop out the higher you get. The few that make it all the way to the top by road could possibly spread from there into the natural mountain vegetation, but even fewer species manage that. All of that we knew, indeed, but a crucial question remains: who wins this...
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The power of the scientific family

[caption id="attachment_3624" align="alignleft" width="225"] Botanist working on Piz Tomuel in Safiental Switzerland in 2010. Photo: Sonja Wipf/SLF, Switzerland.I was lucky enough to grow up in an academic sense as part of a scientific collaboration that I can call my academic family: the Summit Flora family. Recently, the juiciest fruit of this collaboration was harvested when results from the Summit Flora project were published in Nature (Steinbauer et al. 2018). The analyses, based on 302 botanical resurveys of European mountain summits, show that since the 1870’s the plant species richness on summits has constantly increased. And more strikingly, this increase has accelerated hand in hand with climate warming over the past four decades, the enrichment rate now being five times higher than 50 years ago. Although several studies have suggested the link between warming and the upward migration of alpine species, this is the first time that the role of other potential drivers...
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Changing the Mountain Picture

[caption id="attachment_3179" align="alignright" width="300"] 'Baron Alexander von Humboldt,' by Julius Schrader. Humboldt chose the Ecuadorian mountains Chimborazo & Cotopaxi for the portrait's background. How do mountain roads and non-native species affect mountain biodiversity? Next year, we will celebrate 250 years since the birth of the German geographer, naturalist, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Few people had such a strong influence on modern science – and on ecology in particular. One of Humboldt's strongest interests was investigating how species richness and community composition change along elevational gradients. He was obsessed with the idea of climbing all the mountains he came across during his travels, and many of us probably have his famous drawings in mind, in which he noted down all species names and vegetation zones he found from the bottom to the top of each one. However, although the idea of investigating how the number of species varies with elevation is...
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Species on the move

[caption id="attachment_2601" align="alignright" width="300"] Recent climate change is affecting a fragile balance, and the ball just started rollingThe world’s climate is changing rapidly. There, I said it! A statement backed by scientific evidence that keeps piling up, day by day. Yet, what is perhaps even more important: the impact of this changing climate on our world are now undeniably starting to surface as well. From the damaging effect of extreme weather events, over the slow-yet-steady rise of sea levels to the changes in the distribution of countless species; climate change is happening under our very eyes.Concerning the latter, an impressive recent review in Science (Pecl et al., 2017) has bundled all these observed biodiversity redistributions, highlighting why we should care about them. And that last fact might be even more interesting, because at first sight, it might be not more than a scientific triviality if organisms are heading north or up in the mountains.[caption id="attachment_2603"...
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Conservation Award for Africa

[caption id="attachment_2558" align="alignright" width="300"] Ian Little, receiving the award from HRM Princess AnnDr Ian Little from the South African Endangered Wildlife Trust receives 2017 Whitley AwardDr Ian Little from the South African Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), seen here receiving his Whitley award from HRM Princess Ann, was one of the prestigious winners this year for his determined efforts to protect grasslands in South Africa. Ian is one of six individuals to have been awarded a share of the prize money worth £210,000, winning the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation.Grasslands are the most endangered vegetation type in South Africa because this is where most of the agriculture, mining and urban development has taken place. The work of Dr Little focuses on several threatened species and their habitats which include the Wattled Crane, the Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd’s Lark, the White–bellied Korhaan and others. Over the next five years, Dr Little...
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