NewsProposed: "Exciting proposal for a new ecoregion in Southern Africa's endangered 'sky...

Proposed: “Exciting proposal for a new ecoregion in Southern Africa’s endangered ‘sky islands

A New Nature Conservation Initiative Proposed for the South East Africa Montane Archipelago

In southern Malawi and northern Mozambique, there exists a unique “inland archipelago” of mountains known as the South East Africa Montane Archipelago. These isolated mountains, made up of hard granite inselbergs, have facilitated the evolution of distinct species within their forests. However, these forests are under serious threat from charcoal production and agriculture. To address these challenges and promote nature conservation on a larger scale, a group of scientists is advocating for the designation of a new ecoregion that includes these mountains.

The South East Africa Montane Archipelago, also referred to as “sky islands,” are characterized by their high altitudes, grasslands, and evergreen forests. These mountains benefit from cool, moist winds from the nearby Indian Ocean, creating a unique ecosystem. Researcher Julian Bayliss, along with his team, has documented a rich diversity of plants and animals in this region for over two decades.

One memorable discovery made by Bayliss was a new species of snake, the Mabu bush viper (Atheris mabuensis), which he stumbled upon without any harm. This incident highlights the importance of preserving the biodiversity in this area. In recognition of the unique flora and fauna found in the region, Bayliss and his colleagues are proposing the establishment of a new ecoregion called the South East Africa Mountain Archipelago (SEAMA). This designation aims to support comprehensive conservation efforts across the interconnected landscapes of these mountains.

SEAMA boasts higher levels of reptile endemism compared to the larger Albertine Rift ecoregion in East Africa. Some species, such as the Mabu bush viper, are exclusive to this area. The genetic sequencing of this snake further emphasizes the importance of preserving the unique biodiversity found in the South East Africa Mountain Archipelago.

Through the establishment of the SEAMA ecoregion, conservation initiatives can expand beyond individual sites to encompass a broader geographical area. This approach mirrors successful conservation models in other regions, such as the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania. By recognizing and protecting the distinct identity of SEAMA, efforts can be made to safeguard the invaluable ecosystems and species that call these mountains home.

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