In October of 2008, a NGS/Waitt grant enabled Michael Curran and his team to join a Darwin Initiative expedition to two isolated mountains in northern Mozambique. They were part of a large team of researchers whose aim was to explore the biological diversity and conservation importance of these mountains.
Rising out of relatively featureless plains like islands in the sea, these mountains have evolved complex, yet fragile ecosystems where a bewildering number of plant and animal species coexist. The team surveyed the bat communities of these mountains and assessed their biological importance. Historically, very little research has been conducted on the Afromontane bat communities due to the inaccessibility of mountainous areas.
The team’s research in 2007 included an investigation of diversity patterns of bats on the magnificent Mount Mulanje, in southern Malawi, the country’s only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The findings from this research gave them an indication of the importance of Afromontane ecosystems to threatened and forest-restricted bat species. Since then they have been working to discover more about these fascinating ecosystems and the bats that rely on them for survival. The expanses of evergreen (“Afromontane”) forest are particularly threatened by growing human populations driving unsustainable exploitation. As the forests and other important ecosystems dwindle across Africa under increasing human pressures, basic research is needed to document and understand what would be lost, before it is too late.
Using a standardized methodology that includes the use of mist nets, canopy nets, harp traps and acoustic monitoring (recording ultrasonic bat calls using a bat detector), Curran discovered that these Afromontane forests support a very large proportion of the region’s bat diversity within a very small geographic area. Visiting eight sites across three mountains in Mozambique and Malawi, they captured 245 bats representing about 27 species.
This includes two new records for Mozambique that add to the countries burgeoning species list, the long-eared bat, Laephotis botswanae, and a forest-restricted woolly bat, Kerivoula sp. The team also discovered a horseshoe bat that represents a completely new scientific species. This species appears to be an Afromontane endemic, recorded within the montane forest of a single mountain.
The expedition also conducted the first survey of the isolated Mount Mabu, which contains the most expansive and intact area of montane rain forest known in southern Africa. Discovered only in 2003, Mount Mabu testifies to how little is known about the planet and the biodiversity it contains, reports national-geographic.