Forest Islands in a Sea of Mountains and Grass
This area is a mosaic of vegetation types. Surrounded by open grasslands are networks of small montane forest patches. These patches are restricted to the deep ravines or remote valleys of the highest mountains, reaching up to 8,500 feet (2,620 m) on Mt. Môco. The forest patches range in size from 2 to 50 acres (1-20 hectares) and have a relatively low and sporadic canopy ranging from 26 to 50 feet (8-15 m) in height.
The forest patches of this ecoregion are more similar to other montane habitats thousands of miles away than they are to any of the surrounding habitats. In fact, these forest fragments are thought to be refuges from a region of montane forest that at one time was much more extensive and continuous. Some of the endemic species found in these patches are considered to be relicts of this formerly continuous forest region.
The little we know of this ecoregion comes in part from early European explorers who collected specimens for their home country’s museums. Endemic birds include Swierstra’s francolin, the Angola cave-chat, and the gray-striped francolin. Other species include the long-billed pipit, the mountain chat, the mountain nightjar, and the African hill babbler. We know almost nothing about the small mammals that live in this patchwork of forests, although two endemic species of white-toothed shrew are known to spend their time searching the leaf litter and understory for small insects. Few large mammal species live in this montane ecoregion because of the low nutritional value in the terrestrial vegetation. Some, however, such as Burchell’s zebras, elands, oribis, and roan antelopes, are frequent visitors. One species of frog--the Sangreve reed frog--and one lizard--Marx’s rough-scaled lizard--are known to live in this ecoregion.
Cause for Concern
Like other areas of Angola, this ecoregion was little studied before the country’s civil war or since. The remaining patches of forest are threatened by overcollection of fuelwood and timber. Human-induced fires help maintain open grasslands but often encroach into forested areas and result in slowly shrinking forest patches and fragments. Scientists are hoping for access to this area to study its condition and the risks it faces.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001