BES Forest Ecology Group

A British Ecological Society Special Interest Group

Forest of the Month: Cloud Forests of Kilimanjaro

by Chris Chandler

Cloud forest on the southern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

Cloud forest on the southern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

Perched high up the sides of mountains and regularly immersed in cloud, Tropical Montane Cloud Forests (TMCF) are rare and unique habitats home to a considerable array of species. Characterised by the frequent occurrence of cloud and mist at an altitude usually between 1,000 to 3,000 m a.s.l, cloud forests are one of the world’s most biodiverse and species-dense ecosystems. These forests are also recognised for their provision of hydrological services, their ability to store carbon dioxide and as a habitat for a large number of endemic species.

As a mountain leader and outdoor enthusiast I have spent time in cloud forests in various locations including, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mexico, Borneo and the Argentinean Andes. I find this ecosystem extremely fascinating, due to the sheer level of biodiversity that inhabits these environments. Walking through these forests it’s amazing to see the amount of lush and beautiful plants growing on every available surface. One of my favourite examples is the forest at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Here, you are able to see the clear boundary and contrast between the dry, barren savannah into the humid, diverse cloud forest. When you enter the cloud forest it’s like you’ve been transported to a new location. Suddenly, hundreds of species of flowering plants, endemic mosses and bryophytes are on display along with elephants, water buffalo, hunting dogs and the endangered Abbott’s duiker that travel up the mountain. The majority of fauna on Kilimanjaro will be hard to spot, however if you choose to ascend via either the Rongai or Shira route you will stand more chance. Furthermore, keep your eyes out for the malachite sunbird, a beautiful metallic green bird often seen hovering above the grass, as well as crowned eagles and the rare lammergeyer. Over two days are spent in the cloud forests (1800-3000m) giving plenty of time to take in the magnificent species. If you’re considering a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro this website contains valuable information and useful tips.

Kniphofia sp., or Red Hot Poker, in the cloud forest of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (a popular food source for the Malachite sunbird).

Kniphofia sp., or Red Hot Poker, in the cloud forest of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (a popular food source for the Malachite sunbird).

Cloud forests represent 0.26% of the earths land surface, however they provide a disproportunately high number of species and value to human well being. Despite this, they are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world facing considerable threats from agricultural conversion, invasive species, resource logging, fragmentation as well as further external pressures such as climate change – influencing temperature, rainfall and the formation of clouds. The outlook from locals must advance from short-term financial gain to long-term ecosystem benefits. Conservation must diversify and involve governments, organisations and leaders in a combined approach with a central aim to restore and conserve cloud forests worldwide. Furthermore, an effective conservation strategy requires a large socio-economic component as local environmental knowledge and awareness of cloud forests is essential for the conservation of these habitats. Whether these ecosystems are protected for their instrumental or intrinsic value we must recognise all values of nature and focus on the conservation of this precious ecosystem before its too late. In the end, the fate of cloud forests will lie in our ability to end deforestation and mitigate the effects of climate change – how hard can it be?

Additional Reading

Hemp, A. 2009. Climate change and its impact on the forests of Kilimanjaro. African Journal of Ecology 47 (SUPPL. 1):3-10. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2028.2008.01043.x

Lawton, R.O., Nair, U.S., Pielke, R.A. & Welch, R.M. 2001. Climatic impact of tropical lowland deforestation on nearby montane cloud forests. Science 294, 584-587. DOI: 10.1126/science.1062459

Ponce-Reyes, R., Reynoso-Rosales, V.-H., Watson, J.E., VanDerWal, J., Fuller, R.A., Pressey, R.L. & Possingham, H.P. 2012. Vulnerability of cloud forest reserves in Mexico to climate change. Nature Climate Change 2, 448-452. DOI:10.1038/nclimate1453

Pounds, J.A., Fogden, M.P. & Campbell, J.H. 1999. Biological response to climate change on a tropical mountain. Nature 398, 611-615. DOI:10.1038/19297

On the way up Kilimanjaro.

On the way up Kilimanjaro.

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This entry was posted on November 19, 2014 by in Forest of the Month and tagged , , .

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