Johannesburg. Scientists have discovered 27 new animal species that do not exist elsewhere in the world except in the forests of the Eastern Arch Mountains of Tanzania in East Africa, revealing that the ranges have an exceptional biological potential that qualifies them for United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) List of World Heritage Sites.
A group of scientists under the Italian Science Museum (MUCE)--an institution that advocates inclusion of the ranges in the Unesco list--have for the past decade been surveying the forested mountains that run from Southern Kenya through Tanzania.
In their latest findings, published in the Diversity and Distributions Journal, they have uncovered 27 vertebrate species in the forests of these mountain ranges that are new to science and 14 other species that were not previously known to exist in the area.
The Tanzanian government can use the latest research findings to apply to Unesco to be included on the World Heritage list, said the executive director of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, Mr Charles Meshack.
In a press release, he said Tanzania will assume greater international visibility and qualify for support in the long-term protection of these exceptional but highly threatened fragments of forests.
Before this study, the mountain ranges of North Pare, Nguu and Nguru, Ukaguru, Rubeho as well as Mahenge had been completely or partly un-surveyed for forest vertebrates.
A leading expert on Africa’s biodiversity, Prof Neil Burgess of the Centre for Macro-Ecology at the University of Copenhagen, noted that the ranges were already known for a high density of endemic species, although there was no comprehensive data for at least six of the 13 mountain blocks.
The new findings, according to Prof Burgess, affirm the importance of conserving as large an extent of forest as possible, particularly where a forest extends across different altitudes.
In the forests of the Udzungwa Mountains in south central Tanzania, the researchers found the greatest number of species whose distribution is confined to the Eastern Arc mountains, with 20 of species occurring in the area. The curious forest chameleon, one of the three new reptiles reported in the latest study, belongs to the genus Kinyongia and has been discovered in the Mahenge Mountains.
The findings further reveal that the mountain ranges are geologically ancient--and that the persistence of forests on these mountains for several million years has driven an extraordinary differentiation of living forms.
The researchers, who also include conservation agencies in Tanzania and across the world, were supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)--a global partnership dedicated to providing funding and technical assistance to NGOs and private sector involved in the conservation of globally important biodiversity hotspots.
The biodiversity research that was supported by CEPF targeted the most remote and least-surveyed forests in the Eastern Arc Mountains. “Twenty-three of the 27 new species that we reported in the study are amphibian and reptiles,” said Michele Menegon, researcher with the Tropical Biodiversity Section at MUSE.
These results make the Eastern Arc the most important site in Africa for these two classes of vertebrate. Some of these species are up to 100 million years old and are evidence of the great age, forest stability and the unique evolutionary history of these mountains.
In the past three months, Tanzania’s major cultural and natural heritage sites were on Unesco’s list for good or bad reasons.
The Selous Game Reserve was put on the list of endangered World Heritage sites because of widespread poaching in June this year.