Documenting Diversity in the Ebo Forest
The rainforests covering the mountainous region from southwestern Cameroon into Nigeria are some of the most biodiverse in the world. For more than a decade, San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program has been working with a team of passionate people to document and conserve the riches of the robust Ebo forest.
In 2013, we saw the consolidation of two foundation stones of this work: monitoring the population health of gorillas, chimpanzees and a host of other charismatic and endangered wildlife species, and actively involving local villages in direct conservation action in and around their communities.
A third essential component of our work has expanded exponentially over the past twelve months: the acceleration of our cooperation with other organizations to accomplish specific and large-scale, detailed projects.
We have been working with the National Herbarium of Cameroon and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, UK for over a decade to document the existence of endangered species across the forest. Botanical identifications have accelerated recently as we work towards publishing a Checklist of the Endangered Plants of the Ebo Forest, which would include every single plant species identified during a host of collecting expeditions over the past years.
The most recent collecting expedition to Ebo (December, 2013) has continued to bear wonderful fruits. The team collected sufficient evidence to prove the existence of another new species of very large tree, this time belonging to the legume family. This tree will join an ever-increasing group of newly described plants from Ebo, ranging from other large trees (Talbotiella, Myrianthus, Crateranthus) to small forest herbs and shrubs (Palisota, Begonia, Ardisia, Salacia, Microcos, Costus and coffee relatives Psychotria and Mitriostigma). The fact that we are continuing to discover new species, with the fact that we still haven’t collected specimens from the majority of the vast forest, hints at the botanical importance of this forest.
Since active medicinal compounds are often discovered from such sources, by working to conserve the flora and fauna of the forest, we are directly preserving a treasure trove of future medical and scientific potential.
In addition to our work with the National Herbarium and Kew, in 2013 we joined the Central African Biodiversity Alliance, an international partnership seeking to develop an integrated framework for conserving central African biodiversity under future climate change scenarios. Our cooperation coordinator, Abwe Abwe, is heading up this part of our work, working in conjunction with a host of institutions in Cameroon and abroad.
Our collaboration will center on a “common garden experiment,” where we carefully track germination and growth of one particular herbaceous plant species, called Sarcophrynium prionogonium, whose fruits and stems are eaten by gorillas, under different climatic conditions over a five-year period.
With a sample size of thousands of individual plants that will be measured for a dozen characters at regular intervals, we are expecting to be able to collect a wealth of data to investigate the ability of these plants to adapt to different conditions, and thus the implications of climate change on the survival of species across tropical areas.
Bethan Morgan, Ph.D., Head, Central African Program.