February 29, 2016
Who else lives in the gorillas' habitat?
Mountain gorillas are an important and endangered species, but there are many other key animals – and plants – in the forests where they live, creating an interdependent ecosystem. For example, the gorillas rely on plants for their food needs, as do many of the other animals in the forest. So, in addition to studying the gorillas, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund also has an extensive biodiversity program, which is aimed at studying other critical species in the forest, from frogs to monkeys to bamboo.
Golden monkeys are another endangered species in the forest found only in this region, and the Fossey Fund has studied them for many years, suspecting that their numbers are declining due to degradation of their habitat (especially the plants they rely on for food) and other factors. Our biodiversity team, led by Deogratias Tuyisingize, now collects data on golden monkey behavioral ecology throughout the year, including information on their feeding habits, group and individual behaviors, births, deaths and ranging patterns. Tuyisingize has made golden monkeys a focus of his research and plans to complete his doctoral research on their status.
In the Virungas, mountain gorillas and golden monkeys both use bamboo as a key food plant, so our biodiversity studies have also focused on the life of this species, recording data from 92 plots in the forest. The seasonal availability of bamboo shoots is closely related to the movements of gorilla and golden monkey groups, therefore it is important for us to study this relationship. We’re also comparing the growth of bamboo in the Virungas with that in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is home to endangered Grauer’s gorillas.
Birds, amphibians and more
Fossey Fund staff regularly collect data on common bird species in the park, approximately 15 of which are found only in this region. Also important are the wetlands in the forest, where we collect data in 10 areas, recording the different amphibian species that are found. Amphibians are very sensitive to even small environmental changes, so they are good to monitor as an indicator of potential problems. Our long-term data collection here is now being compiled for publication and for sharing with park management and other conservation partners, so that any necessary actions can be taken to protect the habitat.
In addition to our staff, local university students in Rwanda are often involved in our biodiversity studies, as they learn about conservation and hone their field science skills. In fact, more than 60 such university students have been trained on amphibian research techniques and other techniques used in biodiversity research in gorilla habitat.