Studying Gorilla Habitat and Biodiversity

The Fossey Fund's work has expanded to include biodiversity research focusing on other species, many endangered, that live in gorilla habitat. Both mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas share their habitats with an enormous number of species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. 

Biodiversity research at Karisoke™

Our biodiversity program at Karisoke works to preserve the diverse plants and animals in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. Although study of the mountain gorillas has always been the main focus of our scientific work at the Karisoke Research Center, our work now includes studies of many more of the species that occupy gorilla habitat. The program's main objective is the long-term monitoring of biodiversity changes in the park and neighboring habitats. Understanding species distribution, habitat requirements and population trends is helpful for implementing effective conservation. Specifically, we set up standardized scientific methods to study various species and we initiate research projects to provide baseline and updated data to be monitored in the future.

Golden monkeys are now included in our studies

Some of our current biodiversity research projects include studying golden monkey behavior, assessing biomass of gorilla food items within Volcanoes National Park, documenting bamboo phenology, and monitoring of common birds, amphibians, and weather patterns. Previous studies have included investigations of many other species and subjects and much of the research has involved students from the University of Rwanda.

Golden monkeys are a unique species of endangered primate found only in two areas of the Albertine Rift: the Virunga Massif (volcanic mountains) and the Gishwati Forest Reserve. Two groups of golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park have been habituated for study and tourism purposes and remain an ongoing focus of our biodiversity program.

We are surveying Chubb’s Cisticola and other bird species in RwandaBirds are one of the most reliable indicators of biodiversity in Volcanoes National Park, partly because they have dispersed into and diversified in various altitudes and gorilla habitats. One of the central goals of the bird ecology research is to understand and predict the abundance of species in the park. Population trends are often used to help identify species of conservation interest. Karisoke is conducting a series of long-term bird monitoring projects, especially on the status of and trends in bird populations in the park. The data collected on bird abundance, density and species richness have proven to be extremely valuable in detecting long-term regional or national declines and in defining conservation actions.The park houses more than 145 species of birds, including 15 endemic to the Albertine Rift and two threatened species. 

Plant studies are also critical to our research

Study of the many varieties of plants that make up the habitat for gorillas and other endemic animals is of critical importance to conservation, especially monitoring changes in food plant availability. Gorillas and golden monkeys rely on a few key species. In order to have a better understanding of what drives population dynamics and distributional patterns of animals in the park, we need to document resource availability on a larger scale and continue monitoring longitudinal changes in food abundance. Changes in food plant availability may be one of the earliest observed responses to rapid global climate change and could potentially have serious consequences for animals, such as the primates of Volcanoes National Park, that depend on these resources. It is important to evaluate animal food plant abundances and compare the density and biomass of different animals to understand why these animals are restricted to some areas or habitats.

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Sigourney Weaver, Honorary Chair

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