Biodiversity is crucial in conserving any ecosystem to ensure natural sustainability.
Biodiversity is a term that describes the richness and variability in species and ecosystems within an area. Changes in biodiversity, through habitat loss, hunting or the introduction of invasive species, can have serious consequences for the preservation of an ecosystem.
Since ecosystems are interconnected and interdependent, monitoring biodiversity is essential to our understanding of the health of the ecosystems in which the gorillas live and ultimately their survival.
Our 50 years of data have shown us that gorillas are not good indicators of the overall health of their ecosystem.
An indicator species is a species who’s status or presence reflects information about its environment. Gorillas are not good indicators because, like us, they are adaptable—they have very flexible diets and don’t rely on a single place to breed or raise their infants. So, if we want to understand the health of their forest homes, which are among the most biodiverse rich regions in the world, we need to study the larger biodiversity. In particular, species like birds, amphibians and certain plants are great indicators of the health of an ecosystem.
And with this information, we can be better prepared to understand potential threats to the gorillas.
The Fossey Fund studies 8 different wetlands in Volcanoes National Park.
Wetlands are key habitats for many smaller species, such as birds, frogs, and insects, but also provide water and food resources for large mammals such as buffalo and elephant. Wetlands are also key in storing water that falls in the mountains, which ultimately provides water for the people living just outside the park. Thus, their conservation is critically important to both animals and people.
We are now in our 8th year of studying amphibian biodiversity in the park.
Amphibians, particularly frogs, are important indicators of the health of wetlands. They are very sensitive to environmental change, including shrinking of their wetland habitats. If the wetland habitats are reduced, the biodiversity of the amphibian species is also reduced and will be one of the first indicators we see of shrinkage. Because of how sensitive they are to environmental change, monitoring the health of amphibians like the endangered Karisimbi Tree Frog means monitoring the health of the environment. One of our key findings is that wetlands have unique communities of frogs and that even the smallest wetlands may have species not found in many of the other wetlands, and are thus worthy of conservation.
Gorillas are vegetarians, making plant biodiversity key to their survival!
Gorillas consume about 200 different species of plants throughout the year but fewer than 10 make up more than 85% of their diet. Thus, monitoring the distribution and availability of key gorilla food species is very important for gorilla conservation. This is where long-term data is really important—we have been able to show that plant distributions have changed over the last 20-30 years. For example, gallium, which is one of the gorillas’ favorite foods, has decreased in availability since the 1980s. We now need further studies to understand what is causing this change.