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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Mountain water finally arrives at a unique floodplain

[caption id="attachment_3581" align="alignright" width="300"] The very flat Nylsvley floodplain with the Waterberg Mountains in the distance (Photo SJ Taylor, May 2018)Water finally arrives in the Nylsvley Ramsar floodplainAround the middle of April this year, Natasha Mőller, the Officer in Charge of the tiny Nylsvley Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site, sent out photos to show the Friends of Nylsvley that water had finally arrived in the wetland, even if very late in the season. From rainfall in the Waterberg massif about 30 km away, it takes about 10 days to begin filling up the Nylsvley floodplain.This year, perhaps because of the four-year El Nino drought that ended during 2017, the summer rainfall in the Waterberg Mountain catchment was late, and this meant that the wetland was dry throughout the 2017-2018 summer.  Most of the birds had already given up on their chance of breeding and had moved away. Others (we saw a...
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Addressing Climate Change, Poverty, and Flooding in Malawi

Climate change and its associated impacts continue to ravage Malawi, exacerbating poverty and raising doubts over the ability of the country to attain the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the country is losing 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product – about USD 22 million (MK 16 billion) – on average every year due to the combined effects of drought and floods.Between 1967 and 2003, the country experienced six major droughts and 18 incidences of flooding, which heavily impacted smallholder farmers. Droughts in 2011-2012 had severe effects on food security in many districts, with approximately 2 million people affected – particularly in the south. The country has also only just recovered from extensive flooding that took place in 2015 and left many lives and livelihoods destroyed; it is estimated that 1,101,364 people were affected, with 230,000...
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Lichen persistence and evolution in Drakensberg forest fragments

[caption id="attachment_2937" align="alignright" width="225"] Lichens on a tree.To date, there has been almost no research on lichen biogeography, survival strategies, persistence, and the mechanics of gene flow in South Africa’s ancient Drakensberg mountain landscape. Afromont is therefore preparing to initiate a small study on mountain forest lichens on the Drakensberg escarpment – and the first impression one gains of lichen research is a strong sense of why so few people venture into lichen research!Although prevalent, lichens seem ‘useless.’ You can’t eat them, and most of the time, lichens do not do much at all! They appear plastic, hardly alive, with a quiet metabolic and genetic complexity that is invisible. There is also the role (or non-role) of lichens in the landscape to think about. What can these organisms possibly be contributing in the grand scheme of things? From a research perspective, it is very difficult to know which species one is...
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AFRI-SKY-FOR: Saving African tropical montane forests

 Tropical montane forests are biodiversity rich and unique ecosystems. The montane forests of the Albertine Rift region in Africa, for example, contain around 7500 plant and animal species – over a thousand of which are endemic. Tropical montane forests provide numerous ecosystems services including water, food, timber, and non-timber forest products (firewood, medicinal plants, building materials), they support agricultural systems that underpin regional and lowland food security, and make a significant contribution towards income generation through tourism (such as hiking and the viewing of mountain gorillas). They also play an important role in hazard prevention, climate modulation and carbon sequestration.[caption id="attachment_2913" align="alignleft" width="300"] Mt Kahuzi (3317m) and surrounding mixed-species and bamboo forest, eastern Democratic Republic of CongoForests under threatUnfortunately, tropical montane forests are amongst the most threatened ecosystems on Earth due to the combined effects of climate change, population growth, and land use change. They remain overexploited (logging, poaching, mining, conversion...
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Mountain resilience: Collaborative Research matters

[caption id="attachment_2769" align="alignright" width="300"] BREAD researchers had partner meeting to share experience at CNDS, UPSALA University , in August 2017.It is probably common knowledge now that mountain ecosystems are increasingly fragile, with the poor facing the brunt of shocks from changing climate conditions. Multi-institutional humanitarian efforts have been made, but have not halted the problem; hazards still occur, threatening to reverse developments achieved over decades. The urgency for evidence-based solutions to deter such threats is thus indisputable.A project - beautifully coined BREAD, or the Partnership for Building Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods to Climate Change and Disaster Risks in Uganda - hopes to make a difference in the thinking in terms of how to address the hazard or disaster challenges faced by mountain communities. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Universities in the north (Lund and Upsala in Sweden) and south (Makerere and Gulu in Uganda) secured five year (2015-2020) funding from...
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Listening to the Voice of Nature as it Echoes from an Adaptation Retreat

By Felix Donkor and Christopher Mabeza[caption id="attachment_2619" align="alignright" width="300"] Co-op farmers demonstrate the process of rooibos farming to visitors.Anthropogenic climate change has been given different accolades from being a “wicked problem” (Rittel and Webber, 1973) to a “super wicked problem” (Levin, 2012). A common denominator in both descriptions is that climate change, due to its hyper-complexity, defies simplistic or straightforward planning responses. Consequently, as we grapple with complexity in the Anthropocene, response interventions merit an interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary approach.The South African Adaptation Network responded to a call for an advanced platform where discussions could be deepened and stimulated and climate change adaptation initiatives and experiences could be shared among practitioners in the adaptation landscape. The platform was facilitated in the form of a Adaptation Retreat, held in the town of Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape from 15 -18 May 2017. Facilitated by Noel Oettle (Adaptation Network), Shannon Parring (Indigo development &...
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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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Mount Elgon Forestry Resources and Institutions Monitoring Program

[caption id="attachment_2476" align="alignleft" width="300"] Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) session for collecting socio-economic data.Mount Elgon is a unique cross-border afro-montane ecosystem between Uganda and Kenya that provides a variety of goods and services essential to human livelihoods. It is not only an important biodiversity hotspot but also a major water tower for both Uganda and Kenya, serving as a catchment area for the drainage systems of many lakes and rivers. The Mt. Elgon region supports a high population density (about 1000 people/km2), and the people are heavily dependent on both subsistence farming and the forest ecosystem for their livelihoods. It is thus an important ecosystem that needs to be conserved. However, the ability of forest managers, policy analysts, and scholars to understand the nature of the human-forest nexus and how to sustainably manage forest resources is severely hindered by the lack of clear andsystematic time series social and biological data.The International Forestry...
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‘Academic conference tourism’ allows delegates to understand mountain issues first hand

Introduction [caption id="attachment_2446" align="alignleft" width="300"] Street scene, road into MoshiI have had the privilege to visit many unusual places by attending research conferences, an activity I jokingly call ‘academic tourism’.  Perhaps the Mt Kili-AfroMont mountain research conference could be considered an ‘academic tourism’ event in that, as well as the science meeting, it gave delegates an opportunity to see and share information about a rural African mountain landscape at first hand. The Mt Kili-AfroMont conference was held in a worth locality, Moshi (pop.185 000), a small town in Tanzania, within sight of massive Mt Kilimanjaro (5895 masl).  Moshi itself is a bustling rural town, well-organised, but shabby as so many towns in Africa are. Yet, Moshi roars with life 24 hours a day, demonstrating that Africa can out-shop, out-trade, out-party and out-public transport everyone else, despite unruly traffic flows of battered vehicles, swarms of motorbikes, and potholes in the roads.Conference speakers...
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NILE-NEXUS: Opportunities for a Sustainable Food-Energy-Water Future in the Blue Nile Mountains of Ethiopia

[caption id="attachment_2361" align="alignleft" width="219"] Figure 1. Waterfall in the Blue Nile Mountains. Photo: Jose Molina.I first met Belay Simane at a United Nations negotiation in Germany. We were both on government delegations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and during one of the many, many procedural delays we struck up conversation. It turned out neither of us were full-time negotiators. In fact, we were both researchers, and we were both looking at the same place but from very different scales. Belay is an agronomist, and he’d spent years working with farming communities of the Blue Nile Mountains of Ethiopia to advance household and village level climate resilience. I am a climate scientist and hydrologist, and I’d been working with NASA to study transboundary flows across the Nile basin with satellites and regional models. Over several cups of overpriced conference hall coffee, we began a discussion that has occupied...
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