A collaborative international effort by Dr. Julian Kerbis Peterhans of the College of Professional Studies at Roosevelt University (Chicago), the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York), the Centre de Recherché des Sciences Naturelles (Lwiro, Dr Congo), and the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago) has documented four new species of mammal, three of which are unique to a remote and heretofore unexplored “montane island” forest overlooking the western shore of Lake Tanganyika in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The forest, known as the Misotshi-Kabogo Highlands, is located within an African biodiversity hotspot known as the Albertine Rift.
This particular forest has survived decades of civil strife and environmental destruction that have ravaged eastern DRC for the past 30 years, in part because it is still remote from the frenzied exploitation of charcoal, coltan, and gold further to the north. Negotiations are currently underway with the local communities and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect this unique area, reports Dr. Andrew Plumptre, Director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program and a colleague of Kerbis Peterhans. The local community has elected to create a new national park here to protect these unique species, but there are concerns over mining concessions that have been granted in the area.
Kerbis Peterhans and his collaborators describe four new species of mammals (two shrews and two bats) in two papers just published by the Bonn zoological Bulletin. One of the new shrew species is named for the dedicated group of Congolese biologists that have persevered in their survey work and who have made most of these collections, despite socio-economic hardships. One of the bat species is named after Field Museum Collection Manager Emeritus, Dr. David Willard, in recognition of his tireless efforts at Field Museum over the past four decades (including the documentation of bat communities).
Additionally, a unique squirrel and monkey had been known from the area from historical surveys and collections during the 1950s. Even more remarkable is the fact these species were found during the course of a short survey of less than 30 days (in 2007). Three new species from a single forest (with a fourth from a nearby forest) is quite unique and more often such finds would be made on island ecosystems. These highlands, however, serve as an analogue to island systems since the montane habitats in which these species reside are isolated from adjacent forests and mountains by savannah habitats and low elevation streams.
The richness of the Albertine Rift area of Africa, is reflected in more than 40 species of endemic mammals found no where else in the world, ranging in size from the 400 pound mountain gorilla to shrews weighing less than 4 grams. Such unique diversity in such a limited area greatly surpasses that of any other area of the continent.
The discovery of these four brand-new species of mammals demonstrates the need for the conservation of this isolated “island-like” reservoir of biodiversity. “The conflicts between conservation and economic development lie at the heart of all efforts to protect wild areas, says Kerbis. “The more biological information we can provide to local authorities about the uniqueness of their landscapes, the more likely it is that policies will be implemented to protect the area and to conserve global biodiversity.”
Editor’s note: Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a professor of natural science and sustainability studies in RU’s College of Professional Studies and an adjunct curator of mammals at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, spent the 2012-13 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar at Makerere University(Kampala, Uganda, eastern Africa), one of the premier sub-Saharan academic institutions.
Kerbis Peterhans engaged in training African students in biodiversity survey techniques, as well as documenting the biodiversity of mid-elevation forest ecoystems in Uganda. This project followed on the heels of a five-year award from the MacArthur Foundation in the mid-1990s, when Kerbis Peterhans contributed to a program to train over 60 African students in similar techniques in Ugandan National Parks.