We have purchased automatic climate stations to be established in several of the protected areas in the Albertine Rift: Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable, Kahuzi Biega, Nyungwe, Gombe and Mahale Mountains National parks. These stations will record maximum and minimum temperatures, rainfall, humidity, sunshine hours and wind speed. Together with other automatric stations established in the region (notably in the Virunga Volcanoes and Rwenzoris) these will form a network of sites from which climate changes will be monitored. We are liaising closely with national meteorological departments to ensure that these data flow into the national climate collection databases.
WCS has also established a monitoring program to assess how different species are adapting to climate change.
Working with the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi we established permanent alpine plant plots in the Rwenzori Mountains and on Mt Elgon in eastern Uganda as part of the global GLORIA program which is monitoring alpine flora and the effects of climate change. These are the first GLORIA plots in Africa. These plots will be monitored at regular intervals over time to assess changes in plant composition as climate changes.
We are also supporting the monitoring of flowering and fruiting at several research stations in the Albertine Rift as results from monitoring these sites to date show that many are showing major changes in plant phenology. For instance in Budongo Forest, phenology monitoring established by Andy Plumptre in 1992 and continued since then by the Budongo Conservation Field Station is showing about a 30% decline in fruiting by trees since the early 1990s. In Nyungwe Park a similar decline at the peak fruiting period is also occurring. Why these changes are happening is unknown and over the next few years we plan to look into this.
We are also using aerial photographs from the 1950s to map vegetation types on the Rwenzori massif and Virunga Volcanoes to compare with maps from detailed satellite imagery from the present time. The aim is to assess whether there is any movement of the main vegetation belts upslope over the past 50-60 years.
Amphibians are likely to be very sensitive to climate changes because of their need for water to breathe and reproduce. We are working with Michele Menegon of the Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali in Italy to establish permanent monitoring plots along elevational gradients in the Albertine Rift region to monitor changes in amphibian fauna over time. To date we have established plots in Nyungwe and Kahuzi Biega National Parks and plan to establish others in Bwindi Impenetrable and Rwenzori Mountains in the near future. Michele is also undertaking genetic analyses of the amphibians collected in the region to improve the taxonomy and understanding of species richness of amphibians in the rift.