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Wetlands in gorilla habitat facing threats

The Fossey Fund’s biodiversity program studies other animals and plants that live in “gorilla” habitat, as well as various aspects of the habitat, such as rainfall, weather patterns and more, because all of these are important to the overall forest ecosystem, and to the gorillas’ survival. We recently received a grant to study the current status of 13 natural wetlands in Volcanoes National Park, which are critical to this ecosystem. Unfortunately,  recent declines in water table heights and other information suggest they may be threatened.

Population declines have already been reported for some endangered and endemic species that are known to inhabit these wetlands, such as the Grauer’s swamp warbler and the endangered Karisimbi tree frog, all unique to these areas. It is also suspected that other specialized organisms may also be declining as a result of possible water loss.

Karisimbi tree frog

Further exacerbating these issues, we believe that climate change will have an effect on these wetlands, particularly the ones at high elevations, with impacts including decreased water quantity and quality, increased heat stress in wildlife, extended range and activity of some pest and disease vectors, increased flooding, soil erosion, and increased risk of fires.

“Wetlands provide habitat for a wide diversity of species — including water for animals and the community. If these wetlands continue drying out, it will heavily affect the gorilla habitat,” says Deogratias Tuyisingize, the Fossey Fund’s biodiversity research program manager who is helping to lead the study.

Deogratias Tuyisingize – biodiversity research program manager

Our wetlands study, which is now underway, will involve collecting data during both wet and dry seasons, including testing of water quality, surveying important “indicator” species such as amphibians and invertebrates, sampling the plant species, and measuring the size of each wetland for comparison with previous data. Our research team will also record signs of human activity, such as water collection, and study human population expansion levels around the park.

The goal is to provide a baseline of important information for future monitoring, and to be used for development conservation and management recommendations for these wetlands. While the Fossey Fund has been monitoring certain aspects of these wetlands for many years – such as amphibians and vegetation – this will be the first comprehensive study and a major step toward their long-term protection.

“I have been working in the gorilla habitat for 12 years,” says Tuyisingize, “and used to see many lakes in this forest. By 2010, I was surprised to notice that most of the lakes and wetlands I knew were drying up.  It is time to assess all possible causes of this situation and to provide urgently needed recommendations for conservation action.”

This study is led by Tuyisingize along with research assistant Jean Claude Twahirwa, and biodiversity research manager, Dr. Yntze van der Hoek.

Wetlands in Volcanoes National Park