Albertine Rift

Vital but vulnerable: Climate change vulnerability and human use of wildlife in Africa’s Albertine Rift

Completed in March 2013, this report brings together a broad range of new and existing information on 2,358 plant and animal species of the Albertine Rift region of East and Central Africa. Through an exciting collaboration between IUCN and TRAFFIC, and with generous funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the climate change vulnerability of all known Albertine Rift mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, as well as a range of plants, has been assessed whilst simultaneously gathering detailed information on their use by humans.

This powerful combination of climate change vulnerability and use information provided a new tool for assessment of the possible impacts of climate change on the important provisioning services these species provide. These results have been combined with IUCN Red List assessments of species’ extinction risk due to non-climate change driven threats, where available. Overall, this study presents the results of perhaps the most holistic assessment to date of the status of, threats to, and use by humans of the region’s biota.

The study aims to provide information to assist in the management of wild species in the Albertine Rift. The authors hope that the findings presented will promote re-evaluation and, where necessary, refinement of current strategies and priorities to ensure that climate change and unsustainable use do not undermine the valuable advances made in conserving the Albertine Rift’s biodiversity.

The Virunga Mountains

Key messages and recommendations from the report

1. People of the Albertine Rift rely heavily on natural resources, yet the report has found that many of the species important for human use are also climate change vulnerable and, or threatened with extinction due to non-climate change related threats.

2. The report has identified Albertine Rift species that are; of highest vulnerability overall; potential adapters; potential persisters; and those of high latent risk. These categorisations can help to identify the species for which conservation resources should be prioritised, and categorise species according to the types of conservation interventions that are likely to be most effective in helping them to adapt to climate change.

3. A number of uncertainties discussed throughout this report underscore the need for new and continued efforts to monitor species’ responses to climate change. In conjunction with the establishment of baseline datasets with which to compare the coming changes, such monitoring is imperative for understanding mechanisms of climate change impacts, testing and improving vulnerability assessments and, hence, for the development of sound climate change adaptation strategies.

4. The results highlight species that are likely to decline in relative abundance and hence in their availability for human use in the future due to climate change. They broadly indicate the geographical regions at greatest risk of losing the important provisioning services wild species offer. The findings of this report will be valuable for prioritising areas requiring further study, and can be used to guide those developing climate change adaptation strategies for both humans and biodiversity. However, as several notable knowledge gaps exist, it is recommended that further research is undertaken to determine the extent of human use and reliance on species across the Albertine Rift, and the resulting impacts upon wild populations.

5. An increase in efforts to raise awareness of, and enforce laws surrounding, the legality of harvesting wild species is highly recommend by the authors of the report

6. Harvesting of plants for fuel is significant within the Albertine Rift, and increasing human populations and urbanisation are likely to elevate demand further, particularly for charcoal. The report recommends investigating the potential of creating community-based fuel wood plantations of non climate change vulnerable, native and non-invasive exotic plant species as a way to supply fuel wood. Programmes focusing on reducing overall consumption of fuel should also be promoted.

7. Where feasible and appropriate, the domestication of threatened and, or climate change vulnerable medicinal plants is encouraged, in order to reduce pressures on wild populations. Increased efforts to conserve crop wild relatives and traditional varieties of wild food plants is also encouraged as these could provide climate change adaptation opportunities through crossing with domesticated species to increase resilience.

8. In order to ensure a sustainable supply of fish, the report suggests that efforts should be increased to ensure protection of important wetland habitats and the species within them.

9. Levels of exploitation of some mammal species for food are high. The report suggests measures that may reduce pressure on wild species including increasing access to livestock, investigating possible alternative protein sources such as other mammal species or invertebrates and domestication of native wildlife.

10. In light of the study’s findings, the report lists a range of strategies, regulations, laws and agreements, relevant to the Albertine Rift that may be in need of re-evaluation. For example, a species’ climate change vulnerability should be taken into consideration when managing harvest and trade.
 

Useful links
Click on images to enlarge
  • Small scale fishery in the Albertine Rift

    Small scale fishery in the Albertine Rift

    Photo: Chris Bene, WorldFish

  • Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei)

    Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei)

    Photo: Ron Ritchie

  • Charcoal production in the Albertine Rift

    Charcoal production in the Albertine Rift

    Photo: Toon Defoer

  • Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis)

    Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis)

    Photo: Paul Freed