It is urgent that we have an indication of how well African mountain ecosystems are coping under current ‘global change’ pressures. These mountain ecosystems provide ecosystem services for the needs of current and future people in African mountains and their lowlands, and we are unsure of how at risk these essential ecosystems actually are, although changes are clear to see. Long term monitoring is needed, but short term research has been done in many localities, and findings need to be collated and interpreted to compile a ‘State Of’ report.
A State of African Mountains report would investigate current and past ecological research and monitoring in African mountains to provide a baseline for a more streamlined indicator system that will contribute information for the development of a detailed ecosystem exploration for African mountains, particularly leading to a more systematic and comparative way of monitoring ecosystem health and the security of ecosystem services in African mountains.
African mountains and their ecosystems provide indispensable goods and services for communities living in and around them and for various downstream users. Pressure from increasing human activities and climate change is leading to adverse changes in mountain ecosystems and urgent action is needed to develop responses that contribute to existing protective or restorative measures (which include protected areas, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere reserves, river basin management, forest management and community conservation measures, etc.). Areas outside of formal protection are of special concern and information on ecosystem change is needed to manage these areas sustainably. Information is particularly urgent at the ecosystem level, to show how ecosystems are changing and what pressures are causing the changes. Scientists and decision makers need to know how much of these ecosystems and their function remain, how likely they are to degrade further and what can be done to restore their function.
However, to date there has been no quantitative and comparative assessment of the state of mountain ecosystems in African countries. This leads to numerous fundamental questions about the way forward for researchers and policy makers, as we cannot predict interactions across trophic levels, between ecosystems and the human communities they serve, nor do we understand the unique drivers of healthy ecosystems in these montane regions, often the primary source of freshwater for African countries. A critical review of all the currently disparate data is essential, to highlight both the gaps in our information and the existing strengths in data on montane ecosystems in Africa
AfroMont Independent has done some of the preparatory work towards developing a regular assessment with collaborators to carry out assessments of African Mountain ecosystem health, and which may include collating existing data, and at a later stage, collecting empirical basic data, all to put together a regular report similar to the State of the Nile Basin report and other such ‘State Of’ reports.
Priority mountains include Africa’s ‘big ones’, as typified by the Drakensberg Escarpment (South Africa), and other major African mountain systems (Mt Kenya, Mt Kilimanjaro, the Eastern Arc Mountains, the Albertine Rift Mountains, Mt Cameroon and the Cameroonian volcanic line mountains and Mt Rwenzori, to name those in sub-Saharan Africa). Africa has many small mountains which are less charismatic and biodiverse and which are being neglected from a research perspective. A State of Small Mountains Assessment for Africa is also needed, selecting a range of small mountain types in different biomes in southern Africa, and then in Africa.