A herpetological biodiversity analysis as conservation tool for sustainable land use in Malawi
Participating institutes and organizations (aside from the Research Institute and Nature Museum Senckenberg):
Department of Ecology and Evolution, Siesmayerstrasse, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University D-60054, Frankfurt am Main, Germany; Cultural and Museum Centre Karonga (CMCK), Private Bag 16, Karonga, Malawi (link: www.palaeo.net/cmck/).
Malawi is an elongated country, bordered by Tanzania in the north, Zambia in the west, and Mozambique in the east and south. The total territorial area is about 120.000 square km of which circa 20% is covered by Lake Malawi. In fact, Malawi contains some of the world’s most important wetland ecosystems including shoreline plains of Lakes Malawi, Chiuta, and Chilwa, a diversity of Miombo ecosystems, and marshes of the Shire river system. The climate is sub-tropical with a rainy season from November to May. Despite the relative small extension of the country this variety of habitat makes Malawi rich in biodiversity. The nearly 1.500 vertebrate species known are actually divided as follows: 163 mammals, 80 amphibians and 140 reptiles, 548 fish and 620 birds.
The status of the knowledge of amphibians and reptiles of Malawi is still rudimentary. The most available data about distribution of those animals are poor and above all outdated. The alteration of landscape through human activities, taken place mainly in the last decades, makes it sure that this knowledge does no longer reflect the actual situation of natural communities.
Today, the continuous increase of cultivable areas correlated to deforestation and habitat fragmentation places the natural populations to serious hazard. Without new and up-to-date information it is impossible both to value the importance of the biodiversity erosion and to establish effective conservation programs.
Through the acquisition of new data about the diversity of amphibians and reptiles in different farming systems as well as in degraded forest will be possible to estimate the influences of the different land use on herpetological communities.
During the last twenty years it has also become obvious that conservation of nature and biodiversity is only possible if local people are involved and able to obtain economic benefit. The project sets out to prove the essential importance to merge biodiversity conservation efforts with local economic development, especially with sustainable agricultural practices.
In this perspective amphibians and reptiles are used as model groups to test biodiversity of differently used landscapes. Particularly the amphibians are very sensitive to environmental changes, due to their dependence both of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
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