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Cell Phone - +256 701 483088 [email protected]

Rwenzori Mountains Vegetation

Rwenzori Mountains Vegetation

Earlier vegetation studies within the Rwenzori Mountain hike ecosystem (e.g. Plumptre, 1996; MUIENR, 1999) identified over 20 vegetation mosaics. In other expeditions (e.g. Osmaston, 2006) up to seven vegetations belts were observed. These observations were limited to areas accessible on ground and with potential for tourism attraction. For example, from Nyakalegija to Nyabitaba (1600-2600m) the Afromontane forest was reported to be dominated by Prunus africana and Podocarpus spp., while a Bamboo forest overlapping with a Mimulopsis tangle, stretched from Nyabitaba to Kanyasabu (2900m) and John Matte (3400m) respectively.

From the John Matte site a mixture of Erica, Lobelias and Dendrosenecios occured combined with Carex tussocks at about 3400m through Bigo bog to Bujuku (3900m). Between Bujuku and Scott Elliot Pass (4300m) areas, Helichrysum spp, Dendrosenecios and Lobelias dominated while descending to Kitandara (4000m) Hypericum, Lobelias and Dendrosenecios were common. Between 4300m and 4500m from Scott Elliot Pass through Elena to the highest peak, the Lobelias were scattered in several open rocks as well as being covered by lichens and mosses. Beyond this altitude plant life was limited by the glaciers (Hedberg 1995).

Considering elevation and other plant attributes such as form, earlier studies recognized up to six general vegetation belts in RMNP (UWA, 2004). The belts included:

i) Grasslands (1000-2000 m),

ii) Afromontane forest (2000-3000 m),

iii) Afromontane bamboo (2500-3500 m),

iv) Heather/Rapanea zone (3000-4000 m),

v) Afro-alpine moorland zones (4000-4500 m) and

vi) Rocks (>4500m) both open and covered mosses and lichens at the very highest points.

In 2013 vegetation study in Rwenzori Mountain National Park (Eilu et al 2013) revealed up to nine vegetation belts (Figure 4). In this study, a vegetation belt included distinctive plant communities consistently occupying a significant vertical and horizontal portion of the area. According to this study, the dominant plant life-form or species was used to define the belts as follows:

i) Grass/woodland savanna (680-1800m),

ii) Afromontane forest (1800-2600m),

iii) Bamboo-Afromontane complex (2600-2800m),

iv) Bamboo forest (2800-2900m),

v) Hagenia abyssinica mixed forest (2900-3000m),

vi) Ericaceous forest (3000-3400m),

vii) Ericaceous-Afroalpine complex (3400-3600m),

viii) Pure Afroalpine vegetation (3600-4800m)

ix) Rocks covered in mosses and lichens at the highest points (4800-5109m).

Below is the detailed description of the vegetation belts encountered in 2013:

Savanna grassland/woodland (680-1800m): Comprise of various plant species (including grasses, shrubs, herbs and trees). The dominant grasses include Cymbopogon, Pennisetum and Imperata spp., while for the trees and shrubs; Acacia and Combretum spp. are among the common ones.

Afromontane forest zone (1800-2600m): In the Afromontane forest zone (1800-2600m), Prunus africana and Podocarpus spp. were among the common species. Also within this vegetation zone, several natural gaps covered with ferns and grasses were generally observed.

Bamboo-Afromontane complex (2600-2800m): Immediately after a 40 m increment in elevation, bamboo begins to appear forming a bamboo mixed forest complex occurring from 2600-2800m. Several Afromontane forest herbs, shrubs, sedges, grasses and climbers were observed in a few areas within this belt.

Bamboo forest (2800-2900m): Extensive patches of pure bamboo stands are however, observed within a 100m altitudinal range up to about 2900m in some areas (e.g. between Nyabitaba and Guyoman) of the park.

Hagenia abyssinica mixed forest (2900-3000m): In the other areas within a similar range (e.g. between Nyabitaba and John Matte) a Hagenia abyssinica forest mixed with Erica spp. is found up to 3000m (plate 2).

Ericaceous forest (3000-3400m): Furthermore, several forest pockets of Erica spp. with epiphytic mosses appear (plate 3) within a 280m increment in altitude (i.e. approximately 3000-3300m).

Ericaceous-Afroalpine complex (3400-3600m): From 3300-3500m (e.g. in the lower Bigo bog), Lobelia and Dendrosenecio spp. scattered in the Carex runssoroensis open grassland surrounded by Ericaceous forest appear.

Pure Afroalpine vegetation (3600-4800m): A change of about 100m in altitude (e.g. in the upper Bigo bog and along R. Bujuku), the density of Erica species reduces and the abundance of Afroalpine trees (Lobelia and Dendrosencio spp.) shrubs (e.g. Alchemilla sp. Helichrysum spp.) and grass tussocks (e.g. Carex runssoroensis) increase. This is a pure Afroalpine region and the plant communities’ observed are consistent with those reported in earlier studies (see Hedberg, 1951; 1954; 1995; Osmaston 2006; Linde & Gehrke 2006). To emphasize the nature of plant life forms in the Afroalpine belt, the five most conspicuous plant communities include: Dendrosenecio woodland, Helichrysum scrub, Alchemilla scrub, Tussock of grassland and Carex bog (Hedberg, 1951).

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