Even as 24 species of plant or animal become extinct every day, deep in the Usambara Mountains of North Eastern Tanzania a new class of trees has been discovered by researchers. They are part of the beautiful eastern Arc Mountains. These mountains are in a region where many species require immediate conservation.
Even this new tree species could already be on its way toward extinction. It reaches a height of 66 feet (20 meters) and would be hard to miss if encountered. It bears white flowers and is extremely rare. So far it has been found in only two locations with the Eastern Arc Mountains, one in the Amani Nature Reserve in the Eastern Usambara Mountains and the other in a private reserve in western Usambara.
Growing up to a height of 20m, the tree bears white flowers. Scientists are still in the dark about the wildlife that depends on this tree. It is believed that a variety of beetle pollinates these trees. It has been classified as an endangered species as it grows within a restricted range of around only 8 km2.
It was discovered by conservation scientist Dr. Andy Marshall, of the Department of Environment and Geography, York University. He was conducting a study of this forest to comprehend the environmental aspects that have a bearing on the quantity of carbon these forests can stock.
The new tree species was recognized by George Gosline, a botanist at Kew Gardens, U.K., who recognized that they were looking at a completely new species which was related to a class so far considered endemic to the forests of Western Africa. The findings were published in the journal Kew Bulletin in June 2019. Named Mischogyne iddi (M.Iddi), these trees have leaves that are larger than those belonging to other species of the genus and are between 12 and 45 cm in diameter. This particular gene of small and medium-sized tropical trees and shrubs has four other known species, including one in semi-arid Angola.
This new tree species have been categorized ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The trees are located in a very mysterious section of the planet – high up in the mountains shrouded by clouds and surrounded by tea gardens. They now need to be protected at any cost as new species are rarely being discovered due to rapidly dwindling forest cover.
The small number of trees is of particular concern as forests are getting isolated into a small cluster of trees due to climate changes and encroaching agricultural lands. It is imperative that small forests are connected through corridors to ensure the dispersal of seeds and movement of species.
Forests restored by human intervention seldom succeed in reaching similar numbers of species of animal, plants, and insects which were there when the forest was in its natural stage. So forests must be saved before any significant damages are done by humans.
Dr. Marshall led a research project in the Magombera Forest situated elsewhere in Tanzania to understand the best means to adopt to save these rare species. Primarily, the project aimed at including the local villagers in restoring the forests, finding alternative sources for fuel, stopping wildfires, and destroying vines and weeds that kill the original trees. Using this method thousands of trees have been restored over vast areas and it could be replicated elsewhere too.
Dr. Andy Marshall has made other vital discoveries in this region including the Polyceratocarpus askhambryan-iringae tree, a lucky discovery while he was researching the Kipunji monkey, one of the planet’s rarest primates, and also a new chameleon species.
The finding of this new tree species only establishes the significance of the Eastern Arc Mountains as a treasure trove of biodiversity in the whole continent of Africa. The forests are rare remnants of the period when forests covered much of the continent. They are priceless and irreplaceable.
Image Credit: Andrew R Marshall/University of York
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