Oct 12, 2011

A new forest discovered in the Taita Hills!

The Taita Hills of Kenya are a small range of mountains and a paradise of biodiversity. The forests in the Taita have evolved in isolation for perhaps 10 million of years, and evolution produced numerous species that can only be seen there and nowhere else in the world. One of these species is a small bird, the Taita apalis, whose population is reduced to just a few hundred individuals.
The Taita apalis, Apalis fuscigularis
Lawrence Wagura is one of the students that has been sponsored by our small fellowships. Lawrence works with the National Museums of Kenya, and is studying the details of the life history of the Taita apalis, which is a critically endangered species, because it is estimated that more than 95% of the original vegetation of the Taita has been lost. Currently less than 500 hectares of forest remain, scattered in twelve small fragments, some of which are less than one hectare in size. In September 2011, Lawrence and I, during a week of field work in the Taita, stumbled in a most astonishing and welcome discovery. A new forest, never visited by scientists in the Taita! The site, called Msidunyi by local people, escaped detection up to now as it is completely surrounded and hidden by a large plantation of non-indigenous trees. Msidunyi contains about 7.2 hectares of indigenous forest with few signs of human disturbance.

Lawrence birding in Msidunji, October 2011
Preliminary data suggest that Msidunyi is one of the biologically richest forest fragments of the Taita Hills, one of the most important findings was that of a new population of the Taita apalis. We do not know exactly how many individuals of the apalis might be in Msidunyi, but in any case this is a very important news for a bird whose entire population might be now less than 200 individuals! It is surprising that it escaped detection up to now considering that several biological surveys have been carried out in the area in the two decades. Based on size alone, Msidunyi is the sixth largest forest in the hills. More detailed biological surveys are needed to confirm the conservation value of this small forest patch, but the presence of a diverse flora and fauna, including endemic and globally threatened species, suggest that Msidunyi is an important refuge for rare species and a stepping stone for preserving biological connectivity between the isolated forest remnants of the Taita Hills.

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