Isolated Rugged Islands
The Cape Verde Islands Dry Forest ecoregion harbors a remarkable diversity of species despite centuries of environmental degradation. These dry and fragile islands host several treasures, including the dainty Raso lark and three other endemic bird species, as well as 11 endemic reptile species. Skinks and geckos are particularly abundant here. While much of this ecoregion has been damaged by conversion to agriculture, it is still an important home for breeding seabirds such as the Cape Verde shearwater.
The topography of the ten islands that make up this ecoregion ranges from dry plains to high, active volcanoes. On the mountainous islands, sheer cliffs rise dramatically from the ocean. While the ecoregion is generally quite dry, the mountainous areas receive significantly more rainfall than the lowlands. Before humans colonized the islands, the flatlands were comprised of savanna or steppe vegetation, while arid shrubland covered the higher elevations. Today, original vegetation remains only in small fragments on the arid plains.
Swifts, larks, warblers, and sparrows are noteworthy landbirds of the Cape Verde Islands. Skinks and geckos make their way through rocky terrain and cultivated fields in search of insects and other food. Endemic dragon trees still grow, but are confined to the northwestern islands. With their thick trunks and distinctive full crowns of sword-shaped leaves, these trees are highly prized as ornamental plants. At night the skies are filled with the five endemic species of Cape Verde bats.
Cause for Concern
Over the past 500 years, humans have destroyed nearly all of the native vegetation of this ecoregion. A combination of poor agricultural practices and the introduction of goats and alien plants have had a devastating effect on the islands. Many of the original plant and animal species are probably extinct, and it is hard to tell what existed here before human settlement. Seabirds that breed on these islands have been particularly hard hit by the combined effects of habitat loss, predation from introduced animals such as cats, rats, and green monkeys, and the demand for their eggs and nestlings as food by some islanders.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001