Skip to comments.Cameroon Yields Plant Spectacular
Posted on 08/20/2005 3:44:51 AM PDT by Our_Man_In_Gough_Island
A ten-year survey in Cameroon by scientists from the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has turned up more than 200 previously unknown plants. The researchers have found a higher diversity of plants in the Kupe-Bakossi region than any other site in tropical Africa.
Highlights include new species of coffee, spectacular orchids and new relatives of the fig.
The researchers say their work has led to local conservation initiatives.
Kupe-Bakossi lies around 100 kilometres north of Douala, Cameroon's second city - a two-hour journey by bumpy road.
At the end of it is a treasure-trove of specimens for the hungry botanist; which is why organisations including the Cameroon National Herbarium, Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES), the British government's Darwin Initiative and Kew have spent a decade exploring it.
"Of any area that's been surveyed in Africa, this contains the highest number of species," Kew's Conservation Project Co-ordinator Ben Pollard told the BBC News website.
Since surveying began in 1995, the Kew team and their seasonal armies of volunteers from the conservation charity Earthwatch have found 2,440 different kinds of plant living in the region - around one in ten of them new to science.
"They range from a tiny plant called Macropodiella pellucida, which is smaller than a fingernail, to giant canopy trees more than 45 metres high," recalled Ben Pollard, "and included 187 species of orchid."
Rocks and falls
Kupe-Bakossi is a highly diverse region, with two extinct volcanoes - Mwanenguba and Edib - river valleys, grassland and some of the wettest forest in Africa.
Nodonema lineatum lives only on inselbergs; it is listed as 'vulnerable' This diversity is one of the reasons why so many plant species can find a niche here.
Distinctive features include 'inselbergs' - uplifted areas of rock rising above the ground like islands in the forest.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the concept in his book 'The Lost World'; high on their South American inselberg, isolated from the surrounding region and so immune from the prevailing local thrusts of evolution, dinosaurs found a way to persist into the modern era.
The Kew team found no dinosaurs on their inselbergs, but did turn up plant species which live only on these secluded heights, such as the delicate Nodonema lineatum.
More than 200 of Kupe-Bakossi's plants are at risk of extinction, according to the Red List of threatened species maintained by IUCN, the World Conservation Union; and human activities on the regions' fringes could constrain its future.
More spectacular plants from Kupe-Bakossi
"There is urbanisation to the east and south of the area," said Ben Pollard, "and there are huge banana and rubber plantations, which lead to erosion problems and possibly pollution, with substances like fertilisers being picked up by the wind and rained out over the forest.
"There are also reports of illegal logging, which is very worrying.
"However, our colleagues from CRES are working with local communities, and several areas are now going to be protected."
After a decade of research, vast tracts of Kupe-Bakossi remain unexplored.
The Kew team intends to probe these areas as fully as possible over the coming years, and perhaps discover more new and spectacular species.
I certainly hope some of these will have some medicinal or other uses. We are going to need new sources after all these suits against drug companies are settled.
Probably will. I have been studying the plants in my area, (I live in a swamp) and most have been used for medicinal purposes and some have been developed by big pharma.
The big task is educating people so that they understand why biodiversity is important. I think everyone can agree that mass plantings of boxwood, butterfly bush and lirope is boring boring boring and seems to be the plants of choice for subdivisions!
Seriously though, it will be a challenge to protect that site.
Human hating? Agenda?
I'm pretty conservative.
It's the knee-jerk reactions to the natural world and conservation issues that need to be addressed and frankly, you need to read a lot more about flora and interdependencies, much more than I can possibly cover in a bbs.
I'm a conservationist by avocation. There is a world of difference between a conservationist and an ecologist. If you understood that, then my tagline joke would be understandable to you.
It means that Jefferson, our reviled-on-the-left Founding Father understood interdependencies and experimented with permaculture ideas before the left grabbed it. The left uses permaculture and has expanded the term to include Marxist and Communitarian crap.
I also come from a line of farmers and cattle ranchers and know that the bottom line was crop production, not seed saving. My father knew lots about corn and sorgum and nothing at all about indigenous plant life and its use.
Medicinal plants with euphoria as a side effect, now thats what I'm talking about.
Sounds like a good sales pitch for selling time shares there.