Africa

New species discovered in the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot!

– and named after CEPF: Xevioso cepfi

 

In November 2016, a team of eight scientists from Belgium, Malawi, Mozambique, the Netherlands, the UK, and the USA climbed three mountain peaks on the Njesi plateau (Niassa, Mozambique) for a 21-day field survey to collect data on birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, plants, spiders and some other invertebrate groups. The team, led by BINCO (Biodiversity Inventory for Conservation), found many interesting things, as earlier reported

Since then, BINCO has been busy producing a range of publications based on this survey. And now this list includes the description of a newly discovered spider species, which was named after CEPF: Xevioso cepfi. We thought this was a good reason to interview some of the team members about this fruitful expedition.

 

Why did you go to Mozambique, and to the Njesi Plateau specifically?

Lore Geeraert (Invertebrate specialist on the Njesi expedition in 2016): “One evening, Merlijn discovered some interesting-looking, isolated green spots on Google Earth. You really had to zoom-in a lot in order to see them. After a thorough literature search, the sparkles in his eyes became brighter, and his enthusiasm bigger.”

Merlijn Jocque (Expedition leader Njesi expedition 2016, Secretary BINCO) adds: “As biologists we are endlessly fascinated by the diversity of life on this planet. It is quite extraordinary that there are still some blank spots on the map, like the region in Northeastern Mozambique where we explored the Njesi Plateau. In particular the ‘sky islands’, granite outcrops that lay dotted over the landscape, are interesting as they house a unique set of fauna and flora, and the region we visited was as good as unexplored.”  

How did you find the spider?

(c) M Jocque

MJ & LG: “We used standard survey methods such as pitfall traps, and we also collected spiders by hand, at night, using a head torch. Spider collecting was an all-team effort. Every team member had a couple of tubes in their pocket and every spider we found was - with varying levels of efficiency and elegance, but always with high dedication - collected, labelled and preserved.”

Did you scream?

LG: “Even though my heart sometimes skipped a beat, literally, when I encountered a huge spider (much larger than Xevioso cepfi) on an unexpected moment, I never screamed, I think.”

Why is discovering new species important?

MJ: “What we do not know, we cannot protect. Identifying a species is the first step in acknowledging this particular life form that has been evolving for millions of years with a unique combination of genes, behaviour and ecology. Every species described adds a little bit to the knowledge we have about this planet.”

Brogan Pett (junior Archnologist): “I echo what Merlijn has said, and I would add that as an early career researcher, it’s evident that the variety of funding to protect known species outweighs the funding available to protect unknown species! This puts researchers on expeditions such as the Njesi at the forefront of scientific responsibility; to take these potentially undocumented species and provide the first information about them, placing them in the public eye and scientific community.”

 

(c) R Jocque

What we do not know, we cannot protect

 

Do you think there are many more individuals of this particular spider, on this mountain or anywhere else?

MJ: “Xevioso cepfi was found at each of the mountain peaks of the Njesi plateau and the males were found in relatively high abundances. Certainly this species was in the midst of a breeding season during the Njesi expedition (November 2016), with males actively searching for females. But we don’t know if they are present elsewhere.”

Do you think there are more species that have not yet been ‘discovered’ on the Njesi Plateau?

MJ: “Our findings pointed out that the studied mountain is probably geologically not that isolated from its surroundings and that the level of endemism (species occurring solely on these mountains) would be rather low. There are, however, some very nice patches of increasingly rare tropical montane forest on the mountain (especially on Mt. Chitagal and Mt. Sanga). In terms of new species, there are doubtless many new species to be discovered, but this also has to do with the low number of studies from Northern Mozambique in general.”

What do you think will happen to the Njesi Plateau, now and in the future?

MJ: “That is a very good question. What will happen in the future will depend largely on how local entities, governments and non-governmental organisations alike, take up their responsibility to protect it. As with so many places, there is an increasing deforestation in many places and the poaching pressure on the Njesi Plateau was enormous.”

LG: “I agree with Merlijn. Our research contributed the proposition and nomination of this area as a Key Biodiversity Area. This is a crucial step towards effective biodiversity conservation within this particular area, yet it does not guarantee its true protection. As ecologists, we are aware of the many socio-economic challenges that are associated with nature conservation.”

Samuel Temidayo Osinubi, BirdLife International's Conservation Programmes Coordinator for Africa, added: "The process of proposing and designating this site as a Key Biodiversity Area, or KBA, contributes significantly to the persistence of biodiversity. In Mozambique, this process is being led by the Wildlife Conservation Society under the USAID-funded SPEED+ programme. Thanks to the work by BINCO, information about KBA triggers at Njesi have been collated and are in the process of being assessed."

 

It reinforces our commitment to supporting action-oriented research like the work of BINCO in the future.

 

Why did you name the spider after CEPF?

MJ: “BINCO worked together with CEPF in two projects over the past few years, in Mozambique and in Ethiopia. This has been a great experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed the constructive professional and personal collaboration striving towards the same goal. We named this species after CEPF partly because it was discovered thanks to CEPF, but more importantly to honour the fantastic work that CEPF does to protect our biodiversity. Keep up the good work!

Dan Rothberg, CEPF Grant Director for the Eastern Afromontane hotspot, responded: "The team at CEPF is flattered by having this species named in our honor. It reinforces our commitment to supporting action-oriented research like the work of BINCO in the future."

 

BirdLife International has been running the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot (2012 -2019). The investment is now completed and the programme closed on 31 March 2020. See the interactive map of all projects implemented under the CEPF Eastern Afromontane Hotspot programme here.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on the CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net.