Scientists exploring one of the largest remaining blocks of tropical forest in Western Africa discovered significant populations of new, rare and threatened species underscoring the area’s high biological diversity and value.
The findings from a 2006 expedition to Ghana’s Atewa Range Forest Reserve (Atewa) led by Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) are presented in a report made public December 6, 2007.
The RAP discoveries include a Critically Endangered frog species (Conraua derooi) whose presence in Atewa may represent the last viable population in the world; an unusually high 22 species of large mammals and six species of primates including two species of global conservation concern: Geoffroy’s pied colobus (Colobus vellerosus) and the olive colobus (Procolobus verus); 17 rare butterfly species; six bird species of global conservation concern including the brown-cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes cylindricus) and the Nimba flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae)(first time recorded in Ghana); and nine species new to science: a spider tick whose lineage is as old as the dinosaurs and eight species of katydids.
Researchers also observed the reserve to be under pressure from illegal timber harvesting and bushmeat hunting. Mining exploration activities may pose a future threat, as the reserve contains gold and bauxite deposits.
“Atewa harbors one of the healthiest and most important ecosystems in Western Africa and is the crown jewel of Ghana,” said Leeanne Alonso, a Conservation International (CI) senior scientist who heads the RAP program. “This is an SOS to create with local communities and other stakeholders viable economic development options that also protect Atewa’s valuable natural resources.”
Between June 6 – 24, 2006, a team of 22 scientists, post-graduate students and assistants from Ghana and abroad surveyed the 58,472 acre (23,665 hectare) Atewa tract in south-eastern Ghana, just two hours from the capital Accra. The scientists found an intact forest ecosystem, which is unusual and significant for West Africa, where most forests are highly fragmented and disturbed.
The RAP, sponsored by Alcoa World Alumina LLC, provides information for policymakers and other stakeholders in deciding how to balance development with protecting important biodiversity that benefits local communities and the global ecosystem.
Established as a national forest reserve in 1926, and since as one of Ghana’s Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas, Atewa’s importance has long been recognized because it contains the headwaters of three river systems, essential sources of domestic, agricultural and industrial water for local communities and many of Ghana’s major population centers, including Accra.
In their final report, scientists called for the government to upgrade the area’s protection status such as to a National Park, create of a buffer zone around the park and develop a management plan that includes conversation measures and economic development strategies compatible with conservation goals.
The report points to eco-tourism as an optimal industry to develop because of Atewa’s beauty, richness in species and close proximity to the capital city. Another solution cited is Payment for Ecosystem Services or carbon credits. The economic values of the services provided by Atewa would be calculated and payments for these services made to the communities as a mechanism to protect the forest and watershed.
“While this forest has long been known to harbor a high number of species and to serve as an essential source of water for local villages and for Accra, it is only recently that the global importance of this reserve has been confirmed,” said Okyeame Ampadu-Agyei, CI-Ghana country director. “We must quickly take action to protect the incredible diversity of Atewa for future generations and to prevent the extinction of the 36 globally threatened species that we know to live in Atewa.”
Findings from Conservation International’s Atewa RAP report include:
- A Critically Endangered frog (Conraua derooi) whose presence in Atewa may represent the last viable population in the world.
- A butterfly (Mylothris atewa) that is found nowhere else in the world and has been proposed as globally Critically Endangered. This status awaits confirmation by IUCN. The RAP report contains the first photo of this species in the wild.
- A new species of spider tick whose lineage is as old as the dinosaurs. This strange little creature looks like a cross between a spider and a crab, and males have their reproductive organs on their legs. They are considered quite rare, with only 57 other species known from this group throughout the world.
- The highest diversity of katydids (grasshopper relative) in all of Africa, including eight species new to science, making 13% of all species of katydids in Atewa new to science.
- The highest diversity of butterflies in Ghana, featuring 575 of the 925 species known to occur in Ghana – which is 62% of Ghana’s butterfly fauna and twice the number of butterflies found in Europe.
- 17 species of rare butterflies, half of which are found only in Atewa or one other site in Ghana, including the magnificent Papilio antimachus, whose wingspan is the widest in the world.
- 10 mammal species of global and national conservation concern, including the IUCN Red Listed monkeys: Geoffroy’s pied colobus (Colobus vellerosus) and the olive colobus (Procolobus verus).
- An unusually high 155 bird species. Six species of global conservation concern including the brown-cheeked hornbill and the Nimba flycatcher (first time recorded in Ghana).
- 19 fish species of significant potential value in the aquarium trade. These species indicate that the streams run through high quality, intact forest, which is becoming exceedingly rare in West Africa.
- The only tree fern species (Cyathea manniana) found in Ghana. Other places where similar species are found include forests in Brazil and Madagascar.
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