Endemism, Genetic Variation and Conservation in the South-Western Highlands of Africa

Between the Congo and Orange Rivers lie a range of plateaus, inselbergs, and escarpments. These southwestern African highlands are home to several hundred endemic plants and animals, species that occur nowhere else in the world. Some are even recognised as endemic genera. Many more endemics await discovery in this area, probably one of Earth’s hotspots of endemism and biodiversity.

Many of the populations are known to be small, isolated from close relatives and restricted to refugia and habitats that are fast being encroached by human activities. Changes to the climate in these highlands may limit the viability of the populations. Very few highland areas are protected. Understanding the nature, origins and distributions of endemic populations is crucial to establishing their credentials as ecologically significant units, as well as identifying and motivating conservation priorities.

Together with collaborators in Angola, Namibia, Portugal, South Africa and elsewhere, this project will:

  1. Establish the identities of populations on different highlands to refine taxonomic distinctions and measures of genetic difference between populations.
  2. Assess possible connections and gene flow between different populations, as well as assess possible barriers to gene flow.
  3. Establish likely mechanisms and circumstances that led to refugia and the isolation of populations,
  4. Assess levels of genetic diversity within populations to provide measures of their likely health and resilience.
  5. Deliver information about endemism and biodiversity in Africa’s south-western highlands, with a view to identifying and informing priorities for conservation.

Study area:
The highlands of south-western Africa in Angola and Namibia between the Congo river in the north and the Orange River in the south. Most are inselbergs which rise several hundred metres above their surrounds. Others are on the escarpments which rise steeply from lowlands to the
west. Both countries have large plateaus in their central regions.
It is on these elevated lands that so many endemics live.

Duration: Ongoing since 2020

Species of interest

e.g. Procaviidae spp.

e.g. Petalidium spp.

e.g. Afroedura spp.

e.g. Commiphora spp.

Program partners

CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Portugal