Why the Albertine rift?
Straddling the borders of 5 countries, the Albertine Rift volcanic mountain chain supports an afro-montane forest of global importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, these forests have been severely degraded under the pressure for new agricultural land and are highly threatened. Most famously home to the mountain gorillas, this region is also home to a globally outstanding assemblage of small mammals.
With 132 small mammal species, this SMSG Key Region is second only to Mexico in terms of overall species richness. Dominated by murid rodents (57 species) and shrews (36 species), it is also home to 9 other small mammal families. For example, of all the Key Regions, it supports the highest number of nesomyids (Nesomyidae, 9 species), dormice (Gliridae, 5 species), anomalures or scaly-tailed squirrels (Anomaluridae, 5 species), blesmols (Bathyergidae, 2 species), and cane rats (Thryonomyidae, 2 species). Sixteen globally threatened species are found in the Albertine Rift Key Region, including 7 species of murid, 2 nesomyids, and an important assemblage of 7 Vulnerable or Endangered shrew species. Among these threatened shrews are the Ruwenzori Shrew Ruwenzorisorex suncoides, which belongs to a monotypic genus, the Moon Forest Shrew Sylvisorex lunaris, and the Montane Mouse Shrew Myosorex blarina.
The main threats to the region’s habitats and wildlife are from subsistence agriculture, poaching and bushmeat hunting.
Like many regions of Africa, knowledge of the biodiversity of the Albertine Rift is lacking. Six Data Deficient species inhabit this Key Region.
Much conservation action, including forest protection and anti-poaching patrolling, is geared around the mountain gorilla as a flagship of the region. The extent to which these forest protection measures are congruent with the distributions of threatened small mammals is unclear, but the continuing density of globally threatened species here indicate that more work must be done to understand and meet the conservation needs of this important small mammal assemblage.
For the small mammals, basic surveys of distribution and habitat associations are needed for many species, particularly for the region’s 6 Data Deficient species.
The Albertine Rift is one of the SMSG Key Regions in which we plan to fill international knowledge gaps and develop a regional initiative to support and coordinate in-country research and conservation efforts to protect this unique assemblage of small mammals.
At present, the SMSG is working to organise knowledge-gathering and network-building workshops in our three highest priority Key Regions, through which we seek to forge links and recruit local members to spearhead our efforts to galvanise research and conservation focussed on each region’s small mammal species. Our work in these regions will be used to perfect our methodology for achieving similar goals in all our Key Regions. Eventually, we hope to nurture collaborative networks of local and international conservation professionals in every Key Region, which are committed to the study and protection of each region’s small mammal diversity.
While the SMSG is not currently active in the Albertine Rift, we plan to turn our attention to this important region as soon as possible. We will continue to monitor the state of this region’s small mammals through the international scientific literature and IUCN Red List.
If you are a professional small mammal ecologist, taxonomist or conservationist working in the Albertine Rift, please do Contact Us to discuss your work and how the SMSG might help.