Skip to main content

Assessing adaptability and response of vegetation to glacier recession in the afro-alpine moorland terrestrial ecosystem of Rwenzori Mountains

Abstract

The objective of this study was to explore vegetation adaptability in a changing afro-alpine moorland terrestrial ecosystem on Mt. Rwenzori and to determine whether there were any links with response of vegetation to glacier recession. We analyzed the composition and distribution of plant species in relation to soils, geomorphic processes, and landscape positions in the Alpine zone. To accomplish this objective, archival data sources and published reports for this ecosystem were reviewed. A field trip was conducted in 2010 to study in detail seven vegetation sampling plots that were systematically selected using GIS maps and a nested-quadrat sampling design framework along an altitudinal gradient in the lower and upper alpine zones. Using these sampling plots, 105 vegetation and 13 soil samples were assessed in the alpine zone. Soil samples were taken for laboratory testing and analysis. The results show statistically significant differences in pH, OM, N, P, Ca, Mg, and K pools between soils samples drawn from the lower and upper alpine sites (p < 0.0033). Furthermore, we observed a significant vegetation formation with numerous structural forms, but there was a limited diversity of species. The most significant forms included Alchemilla carpets, Bogs, Dendrosenecio woodland, and Scree slopes. The lower alpine area (3500–3900 masl) had a more diverse plant species than other areas, especially Alchemilla argyrophylla and Dendrosenecio adnivalis species that were evident due to well-drained deeper soils. The Alchemilla subnivalis were evident at a higher altitude of above 4000 masl. Shifts in the Astareceae (e.g. Senecio species) were particularly prominent even on recently deglaciated areas. The spatial variations of species distribution, structure, and composition suggest there are serious implications in terms of ecosystem adaptability, resilience, and stability that require further evaluation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Anthelme F, Buendia B, Mazoyer C, and Dangles O (2012) Unexpected mechanisms sustain the stress gradient hypothesis in a tropical alpine environment. Journal of Vegetation Science 23(1): 62–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bannister P, Maegli T, Dickinson KJM, et al. (2005) Will loss of snow cover during climatic warming expose New Zealand alpine plants to increased frost damage? Oecologia 144(2): 245–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Battarbee RW, Thompson R, Catalan J, et al. (2002) Climate variability and ecosystem dynamics of remote alpine and arctic lakes, the MOLAR project. Journal of Paleolimnology 28: 1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Becker A, Korner C, Brun JJ, et al. (2007) Ecological and land use studies along elevational gradients. Mountain Research and Development, 27 (1): 58–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bradley RS, Keimig FT, Diaz HF (2004) Projected temperature changes along the American Cordillera and the planned GCOS network. Geophysical Research Letters 31: L16210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Campbell JB (2002) Introduction to remote sensing. New York: The Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cleland EE, Chuine I, Menzel A, et al. (2007) Shifting plant phenology in response to global change. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22(7): 357–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Coetzee JA (1964) Evidence for a considerable depression of the vegetation belts during the Upper Pleistocene on the East African Mountains, Nature 204: 564–566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Diaz HF, Grosjean M, Graumlich L (2003) Climate variability and change in high-elevation regions: past, present and future. Climatic change 59: 1–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dullinger S, Dirnbock T, Grabherr G (2004) Modelling climate change-driven treeline shifts: relative effects of temperature increase, dispersal and invisibility. Journal of Ecology 92(2): 241–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Eggermont H, Van Damme K, Russell JM (2009) Rwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the moon): Headwaters of the White Nile. In: Dumont HJ (ed.), The Nile: Origin, Environments, Limnology and Human Use.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Eggermont H, Russell JM, Schettler G, et al. (2007) Physical and chemical limnology of alpine lakes and pools in the Rwenzori Mountains (Uganda-DR Congo) Hydrobiologia 592: 151–173. DOI: 10.1007/s10750-007-0741-3

    Google Scholar 

  13. Germino MJ, Smith WK, Resor C (2002) Conifer seedling distribution and survival in an alpine-treeline ecotone. Plant Ecology 162: 157–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gregoire TG, Valentine HT (2008) Sampling Strategies for Natural Resources and the Environment. Chapman & Hall/CRC, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Guisan A, Zimmermann NE (2000) Predictive habitat distribution models in ecology. Ecological Modelling 135: 147–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Guisan A, Thuller W (2005) Predicting species distribution: offering more than simple habitat models. Ecology Letters 8: 993–1009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hauman L (1933) Sketch of vegetation at high altitudes on the Ruwenzori. Bulletin of the Royale Belgium Academy, Climate Sciences Series 5(19): 602–616, 702-717, 900-917.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hedberg O (1951) Vegetation belts of the East African Mountains. Swedish Botanical Journal 45: 140–202.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hirzel AH, Hausser J, Chessel D, Perrin N (2002) Ecological niche factor analysis: How to compute habitat suitability maps without absence data? Ecology 83: 2027–2036.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Houghton J (2001) The science of global warming. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 26: 247–257.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. IPCC (2007) Climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Working Group II. Http: //www.ipcc-wg2.org/.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jolliffe IT (1986) Principal Component Analysis. Springer-Verlag, New York, USA.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  23. Kaser G, Osmaston H (2002) Tropical Glaciers. Cambridge Univ. Press, New York. p. 207

    Google Scholar 

  24. Kebede M, Ehrich D, Taberlet P, et al. (2007) Phylogeography and conservation genetics of a giant lobelia (Lobelia giberroa) in Ethiopian and Tropical East African mountains. Molecular Ecology 16(6): 1233–1243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Li Z, Eastman RJ (2006) Commitment and typicality measurements for fuzzy ARTMAP neural network. In: Proceedings of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), Volume 6420 Geoinformatics 2006: Geospatial Information Science, 64201I held in Wuhan, China, October 28, 2006. DOI: 10.1117/12.712998

    Google Scholar 

  26. Livingstone DA (1967) Postglacial vegetation of the Rwenzori Mountains in Equatorial Africa. Ecological Monographs 37(1): 25–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Malanson GP, Butler DR, Cairns DM, et al. (2002) Variability in an edaphic indicator in alpine tundra. Catena 49(3): 203–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Mark AF, Dickinson KJM, Hofstede RGM (2000) Alpine vegetation, plant distribution, life forms, and environments in a pre-humid New Zealand region: Oceanic and tropical high mountain affinities. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research 32(3): 240–254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mark AF, Porter S, Piggott JJ, et al. (2008) Altitudinal patterns of vegetation, flora, life forms, and environments in the alpine zone of the Fiord Ecological Region, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 46(2): 205–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Mc Cullagh P, Nelder JA (1989) Generalized Linear Models. Chapman and Hall, London.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  31. Mizuno K (1998) Succession Processes of Alpine Vegetation in Response to Glacial Fluctuations of Tyndall Glacier, Arctic and Alpine Research 30(4): 340–348.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Mizuno K (2005) Vegetation succession in Relation to Glacial Fluctuation in the High Mountains of Africa. Africa Study Monographs. Supplement 30: 195–212.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Mölg T, Rott H, Kaser G, et al. (2006) Comment on "Recent glacial recession in the Rwenzori mountains of east Africa due to rising air temperature'' by Richard G. Taylor, Lucinda Mileham, Callist Tindimugaya, Abushen Majugu, Andrew Muwanga, and Bob Nakileza. Geophysical Research Letters 33. DOI: 10.1029/2006GL027254

    Google Scholar 

  34. Osmaston H (1998) The influence of the quaternary history and glaciations of the Rwenzori on the present landscape and ecology. In: Osmaston H, Tukahirwa J, Basalirwa C and Nyakaana J (eds.) The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. Department of Geography, Makerere University.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Osmaston HA, Kaser G (2001) Rwenzori Mountains National Park: Glaciers and glaciations Scale 1: 100, 000. Cambridge University Press, London, UK.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Osmaston H (2006) Guide to the Rwenzori: The Mountains of the Moon. The Rwenzori Trust, United Kingdom.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Peterhans Kerbis JC, Kityo RM, Stanley WT, et al. (1998) Small Mammals along an elevational gradient in Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. In: Osmaston H, Tukahirwa J, Basalirwa C, et al. (eds.), The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. Department of Geography, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Price MF, Barry RG (1997) Climate change. In: Messerli B, Ives JD (eds.), Mountains of the world: A global priority. Parthenon Publishing Group, New York, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Resler LM, Fonstand MA, Butler DR (2004) Mapping the Alpine Treeline Ecotone with Digital Aerial Photography and Textural Analysis. Geocarto international 19(1): 37–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Russell J, Eggermont H, Taylor R, Verschuren D (2008) Paleolimnological Records of Recent Glacial Recession in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda-D. R. Congo. Journal of Paleolimnology 41(2): 253–271. DOI: 10.1007/s10933-008-9224-4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Schmitt K (1998) The Biodiversity of the Rwenzori Mountains. In: Osmaston H, Tukahirwa J, Basalirwa C, et al. (eds.), The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. Department of Geography, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Schmitt K, Beck E (1992) On the afro-alpine vegetation of the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Phytocoenologia 21(3): 313–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Schmitt K (1985) Die afro-alpine vegetation des Rwenzori Gebirges. Diplomarbeit, University of Munich. p 122p.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Smith AP, Young TP (1987) Tropical alpine plant ecology. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 18: 137–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Sorvari S, Korhola A, Thompson R (2002) Lake diatom response to recent Arctic warming in Finnish Lapland. Global Change 8: 153–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Taylor RG, Mileham L, Tindimugaya C, et al. (2006a) Recent glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains of East Africa due to rising air temperature. Geophysical Research Letters 33: L10402. DOI: 10.1029/2006GL025962

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Taylor RG, Mileham L, Tindimugaya C, et al. (2006b) Reply to Comment by Mölg et al. on Recent glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains of East Africa due to rising air temperature. Geophysical Research Letters 33: DOI 10.1029/2006GL027606

  48. Taylor RG, Mileham L, Tindimugaya C, Mwebembezi L (2009) Recent glacial recession and its impact on alpine river flow in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda. Journal of African Earth Sciences 55: 205–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Thompson LG, Mosley-Thompson E, Bercher HH, et al. (2006) Abrupt tropical climate change: Past and Present. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 103: 10536–10543.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Trivedia MR, Morecroftc MD, Berrya PM, Dawsond TP (2008) Potential effects of climate change on plant communities in three montane nature reserves in Scotland, UK. Biological Conservation 141: 1665–1675.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. UNEP (2012) Africa without Ice and Snow, Global Environmental Alert Service. Last accessed on March 15, 2016 at http: //www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_AUG_2012.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Yang Y, Genxu W, Shen H, et al. (2014) Dynamics of carbon and nitrogen accumulation and C: N stoichiometry in a deciduous broadleaf forest of deglaciated terrain in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Forest Ecology and Management 312: 10–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Willard DE, Gnoske TP, Kityo RM (1998) An elevational survey of the birds of the Mubuku and Bujuku river valleys, Rwenzori Mountains Uganda. In: Osmaston H, Tukahirwa J, Basalirwa C, Nyakaana J (eds), The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. Department of Geography, Makerere University, Uganda. pp 91–102.

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bob R. Nakileza.

Additional information

http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0108-2370

http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9718-0460

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Oyana, T.J., Nakileza, B.R. Assessing adaptability and response of vegetation to glacier recession in the afro-alpine moorland terrestrial ecosystem of Rwenzori Mountains. J. Mt. Sci. 13, 1584–1597 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11629-015-3504-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Alpine
  • Plant species
  • Species abundance
  • Tropical afro-alpine ecosystems
  • Afro-alpine moorland