Botanical surveys of the coastal forests of Mozambique

Fieldwork in the coastal forests of northern Mozambique has so far led to the discovery of 20 new species and 50 species not previously recorded in the country.

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13 Jan 2011

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The team in Mozambique's coastal forest

The fieldwork team in the coastal forests of northern Mozambique (Image: J. Timberlake)

The chain of coastal forests and thickets found along the eastern African coast, well-known for their large number of local endemics, are recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot. Although in Tanzania these forests have been moderately well-studied, the relatively small patches of deciduous dry forest in northern Mozambique have been little visited. Since 2008, two expeditions have been undertaken to various localities in Cabo Delgado Province – a joint project with Pro Natura International, the Paris Natural History Museum and the Mozambique National Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM). Kew's Drylands Africa team is coordinating the botanical aspects.

To date these expeditions and associated trips have collected around 2,000 plant specimens, including over 50 new records for Mozambique and 20 possible new species, including a Xylopia (Annonaceae), Vitex, Baphia and numerous Rubiaceae shrubs. The new records indicate strong links with deciduous forest patches on similar recent geological formations in the Lindi–Rondo area of SE Tanzania.

Satellite imagery was used to determine forest extent, but it proved difficult to clearly separate forest from woodland. Many patches have been destroyed over the last 100 years, with the fragmented remnants now totalling 400–600 km2. Rapid clearance for subsistence agriculture is now apparent as human settlement expands and there is improved access owing to oil prospection.

Biodiversity and conservation findings from this survey work will be written up and presented to the Mozambican authorities. Meanwhile, the new species are being described along with other technical results from this fascinating area.

Item from Jonathan Timberlake (Editor, Flora Zambesiaca, RBG Kew)

Originally published in Kew Scientist, issue 37

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