Scientists working in the rugged Kabobo Massif in Congo have identified a new species of ginger, bringing the number of unique species in the area to eight, with five more being currently under study. This highlights the importance of preserving the site, which is one of the most diverse in Africa.

African landscapes have numerous biodiversity hotspots. Though they are not as famous as their counterparts in South America for instance, conservation is just as important. Who knows what valuable plants and medicines await discovery? Depicted here, the Rwenzori Mountains (not a part of this study).

Fifty shades of ginger

You might have thought ginger is a single plant, but there are actually fifty species of ginger spread throughout Africa and Madagascar. Both people and wildlife eat the fruits of many such plans, and the roots are also consumed, though to a lesser extent.

This particular plant has been called Aframomum ngamikkense, after one of the peaks in the Kabobo Massif. Its habitat is confined to 1,500 – 2,500 meters, occurring only in some isolated patches. However, in these patches, it’s very abundant. The plant was discovered during an expedition conducted by researchers from Trento Science Museum and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with subsequent genetic analysis revealing that it’s a new species. Several frog species and a pangolin are being currently analyzed to confirm whether they too are previously undiscovered species. While scientists are aware of the special biodiversity in the area, it was surprising even to them to see just how rich their findings were. Andrew Plumptre, WCS Senior Scientist, commented:

“While mountains are known to encourage speciation, it is uncommon to find so many unique species at one site, particularly when we have only made biodiversity surveys over a period of about four months.”

Scientists from WCS have discovered a new species of wild ginger, spicing up a wave of recent wildlife discoveries in the Kabobo Massif. Image credits: A.J. Plumptre/WCS.

They hope that this boon of biodiversity will help conservation efforts in the massif. So far, a total of 558 terrestrial vertebrates and 1,410 plant species have been documented in the area since the 1950s, but civil war and an overall lack of security prevented virtually any conservation effort. The Kabobo Natural Reserve had its boundaries formally approved in December 2016 by the Provincial Governor of Tanganyika Province and while this is a laudable first step, it is still only a first step. Now, a conservation plan has been devised for the Kobobo Massif, combined with the nearby Ngandja Reserves and Luama Katanga Reserve, which together cover 2,683 square miles (6,951 square kilometers). Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS Project manager in Kabobo, believes both internal and external efforts are vital to the sustainable management of the reserve, and identifying new species can go a long way to that objective — drawing international attention to the importance of the area and harboring a sense of pride in nearby communities.

Journal Reference: A new species of Aframomum (Zingiberaceae) from D.R. Congo.

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