Protected areas in East Africa are not doing enough to conserve the iconic Acacia trees in the savannah, a new study have found.
The study found that majority of Acacia biodiversity in protected areas like national parks, nature and forest reserves receive little protection, a situation which may be exacerbated by climate change.
The researchers found that two thirds of Acacia diversity hotspots had less than 10 per cent coverage by protected areas. They also conclude that due to climate change, high-elevation, moisture-dependent species of Acacia may contract their ranges towards mountain peaks, where protected areas are dominated by forest reserves.
“The Acacia is one of Africa’s most iconic groups of trees, but our data suggest protected areas such as national parks do not really conserve them. This is most likely because most protected areas were originally established to protect big game rather than to protect biodiversity and plants.” Dr Andy Marshall on of the researchers from US said.
Acacia includes a number of species that dominate extensive areas of East African woodland, wooded grassland and bushland. It occurs across a wide range of ecosystems, from arid deserts to mountain forests, and ranges from small shrubs to large trees.
The study ‘The genus Acacia (Fabaceae) in East Africa: distribution, diversity and the protected area network’ is published at Plant Ecology and Evolution and included research in 771 protected areas in 65 world-renowned national parks and game reserves in five East African countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
“Data suggest that if we were to take the existing protected areas and place them completely at random across the area, we would get a better coverage of Acacia diversity than the current distribution,” says the study.
The study says governments should seek how best to deal with the potential mismatch between biodiversity and the current protected area network by effective means of biodiversity conservation by closely involving local people to protect both animals and plants.
“Acacia like other plants have been ignored in conservation in protected areas even though they harness Sun’s energy and providing nutrients for the entire food chain. Information on plant distributions and the ways in which ecosystems will respond to future climatic and economic developments is crucial,” Dr Marshall says.
The study which has been carried out by University of York, Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo among others will be fully published next year.
© Manuel Odeny, 2012