WWF Ecoregions of the Albertine Rift

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Ecoregions are areas that: [1] share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics; [2] share similar environmental conditions; and, [3] interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have established a classification system that divides the world in 867 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 229 marine ecoregions that reflect the distribution of a broad range of fauna and flora across the entire planet.

caption Ecoregions of the Albertine Rift. Source: WWF

The following WWF ecoregions are found in the Albertine Rift:

  1. Albertine Rift montane forests (AT0101) represent the largest ecoregion in the Albertine Rift, particularly in the middle section. It is an area of exceptional faunal and moderate floral endemism. These mountains also support the Mountain gorilla, which is one of the most charismatic flagship species in Africa, and an effective target for much of the current conservation investment in the area. The area straddles the borders of five different nations, making effective ecoregional conservation a challenge in the area. Although there are a number of National Parks and Forest Reserves in the area, the recent wars have made their management difficult over much of the ecoregion. Additional threats include conversion of most forest areas outside reserves into farmland, together with logging, firewood collection, and bushmeat hunting within the remaining forest areas.

  2. East Sudanian savanna (AT0705) reaches down from the north to encompass much of Lake Albert. This hot, dry, wooded savanna composed mainly of Combretum and Terminalia shrub and tree species and tall elephant grass has been adversely affected by agricultural activities, fire, clearance for wood and charcoal, but large blocks of relatively intact habitat remain even outside protected areas. Populations of some of the larger mammal species have been reduced by hunting, but good numbers of others remain. Although numerous protected areas exist, most are under-resourced "paper parks" with little active enforcement on the ground, and some have suffered from decades of political instability and civil unrest. The poor infrastructure and inaccessibility of the region have resulted in little development of tourism and wildlife-related revenue generation schemes, with the notable exception of sport hunting in the Central African Republic. Considerable external support to this ecoregion from multilateral and bilateral aid agencies is likely to be needed for many years to maintain or improve current levels of biodiversity.

  3. Northern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic (AT0712) touches upon the Rift from the north east. This narrow transition zone marks an abrupt habitat discontinuity between the extensive Congolian rain forests and Sudanian/Sahelian grasslands. With their characteristically diverse habitat complexes, forest savanna mosaics support a high proportion of ecotonal habitats, which have high species richness and are possible locii of tropical differentiation and speciation. The gallery forests of Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC shelter the last known populations of Northern white (square-lipped) rhinoceros and at the western extreme of this ecoregion is the last population of the Western black rhino. However, political and economic instability and population growth throughout Central Africa exert intense pressure on parts of this ecoregion, especially in the eastern portion. The Garamba rhinos had plunged to a record low of 15 individuals in 1984 as a result of intensive poaching. By 1996, their numbers doubled under conservation efforts, but continuing regional instability could eliminate this remnant population.

  4. Northeastern Congolian lowland forests (AT0124) flanks the Rift on the west and touches upon the edge of the Rift for a short stretch just north of Lake Edward. It contains endemic species and large areas of forest wilderness with intact animal and plant assemblages. Endemic species include the okapi, aquatic genet, and the Congo peacock. The forests also provide critical habitat for endangered species such as eastern lowland gorilla. There are some protected areas, but the recent military conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have made these difficult to manage. Threats come from mining, logging, hunting, and agricultural clearance of forest, often by refugees.

  5. Ruwenzori-Virunga montane moorlands (AT1013) occurs in two areas mostly above 9,800 feet (3,000 m) atop the Ruwenzori and Virunga mountains. Habitat types include lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, open montane grasslands, areas of scrub, patches of high elevation forest, glaciers, and even snow fields. It include habitat for the vulnerable mountain gorilla, the Ruwenzori-Virunga Montane Moorlands contain two World Heritage Sites--areas set aside for protection by international treaties.

  6. Victoria Basin forest-savanna mosaic (AT0721) covers much of Uganda and Rwanda and reaches into the rift from the east to occupy an area south of Lake Edward. The ecoregion is most noted for its high species diversity and endemism resulting from the mixture of habitat types and species from both western and eastern Africa. Add the scattered wetland habitat, and you get an abundance of animals representing different habitat types. These include more than 310 species of trees and shrubs, 280 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, and 100 species of moths. The tropical moist climate here has two rainy seasons--one in April and May and another in October and November. These help replenish the waters for the many wetland areas of the ecoregion.

  7. Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands (AT0704) are the dominant ecoregion in the southern part of the Rift around Lake Tanganyika. It is one of the largest ecoregions in Africa, ranging from Angola up to the southern shores of Lake Victoria. All the typical miombo flora are represented here, but this region has a higher degree of floral richness, with far more evergreen trees than elsewhere in the miombo biome. The harsh dry season, long droughts, and poor soils are ameliorated by the numerous wetlands spread throughout the ecoregion, covering up to 30 percent of the region’s total area. As a result, a diverse mix of animals is found here, from sitatunga (swamp-dwelling antelopes), to chimpanzees, in the world-famous Gombe Stream Reserve. The bird life is also exceptionally rich, as is the fauna of some amphibian groups. The ecoregion contains areas of near-wilderness with exceptionally low human populations and extensive protected areas. Other parts of the ecoregion, typically close to lakes and mountains, have higher population densities and the miombo is much more degraded. Bushmeat hunting, dryland agriculture, deforestation especially for charcoal production near larger towns, and mining are increasing threat in this ecoregion.

  8. Itigi-Sumbu thicket (AT0708) is small, unique but poorly understood ecoregion on the werstern short of the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika at the very southern end of the Rift. (This ecoregion exist in another eara to the east in Tanzania.) It is best known for its impenetrably dense deciduous vegetation. Elephants forcing their way through these thickets barely leave tracks, as the shrubs spring back to their original positions. It contains a number of endemic plants and was once vital habitat for the black rhino, although poachers have eradicated the rhino in this ecoregion. Human populations in the area are rapidly increasing and even the thicket contained in protected areas is converted for agricultural purposes. In fact, the Itigi-Sumbu Thicket is being transformed so quickly that the Zambian portion is predicted to disappear in the next twenty years if urgent conservation action is not taken.

See also:

Ecoregions (collection)
Ecoregions of Uganda (WWF)
Ecoregions of Rwanda (WWF)
Ecoregions of Burundi (WWF)
Ecoregions of Tanzania (WWF)
Ecoregions of Zambia (WWF)
Ecoregions of Congo, Democratic Republic of (WWF)

Further Reading

  1. Bailey, Robert G. 2002. Ecoregion-Based Design for Sustainability. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 240pp., 100 illus. ISBN 0-387-95430-9
  2. Bailey, Robert G. 1998. Ecoregions: The Ecosystem Geography of the Oceans and the Continents. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 192pp., 107 illus., 10 tables. ISBN 0-387-98305-8
  3. Bailey, Robert G. 1996. Ecosystem Geography. Springer-Verlag. New York, New York. 216pp., 122 illus., 14 tables. ISBN 0-387-94586-5
  4. Omernik, James M., 1995. Ecoregions: A spatial framework for environmental management. In: Biological Assessment and Criteria: Tools for Water Resource Planning and Decision Making. Davis, W.S. and T.P. Simon (eds.) Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. Pp. 49-62. ISBN: 0873718941.
  5. World Wildlife Fund, Ecoregions homepage, Accessed 1 May 2009.

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Citation

Fund, W. (2009). WWF Ecoregions of the Albertine Rift. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156881

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