Since 1987, WCS and its partners have been providing ongoing ecological research to better understand the wildlife and plant species that live within Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda’s largest mountain forest. This research provides park managers with critical information needed to make informed management decisions and a better understanding of harnessing the economic and environmental value of the forest for local communities.
Why do we do it?
Nyungwe National Park supports many unique plant and wildlife species, some of which are endangered, rare or specially adapted to only live within the park’s unique mountain forests. Each plant and animal in the forest work together to provide important services to local people and businesses and to Rwanda as a whole, including: the provision of clean water, erosion control, flood protection, and climate regulation. When WCS first arrived in Nyungwe, over 25 years ago, very little was known about the forest’s biodiversity and the park’s value to Rwanda and the broader region. Over time, ongoing research has provided park managers and local communities with a better understanding of ways to recapture the forest’s economic value, effectively manage and enhance tourism ventures and ultimately protect the park against its greatest challenges, including global climate change.
How do we do it?
The research performed by WCS and its partners in Nyungwe is mostly focused on biodiversity surveys and the long term monitoring on Nyungwe’s mammal, bird and tree species. WCS and its partners have also enlisted park rangers in collecting ecological data during routine patrols, which park managers with valuable information to make informed decisions for the long-term benefit of the park. More recently, monitoring efforts have started to capture the effects of climate change on the park’s biodiversity to help Rwanda design more effective climate adaptation plans. Additionally, new research is providing valuable information of ways to capture Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) to create diverse and sustainable funding sources to finance the protection and management of Nyungwe National Park. Working closely with park rangers and managers, WCS and its partners have created effective research programs to track law enforcement efforts through data collected by park rangers and developed ongoing biodiversity monitoring and survey systems.
Law Enforcement Monitoring
- Park rangers are being trained and required to help monitor key threats to the park, including illegal logging, mining, poaching, and the gathering of bamboo, timber, firewood and medicinal plants. With support from WCS, park rangers perform routine patrols and provide timely, accurate information to park authorities in order to track trends in illegal activities and make informed management decisions.
Biodiversity Monitoring and Surveys
- Biodiversity inventories and surveys gather comprehensive data on the diversity, abundance and distribution of birds, mammals and plants across Nyungwe NationalPark. These surveys help identify significant conservation areas, enable long-term monitoring of the flora and fauna in the park. Data collected from surveys is also used to evaluable the effectiveness and performance of implemented conservation actions. Tree phenology monitoring collects valuable data on both the timing and the quantity of flowers, fruits and new leaves of various plant species. This work concentrates on tree species that constitute a significant food source for the park’s frugivores – fruit eaters, such as primates and birds. Long-term tree phenology data also allows park managers and researchers to better understand the regional impacts of climate change when cross-analyzed with historic climate data.
What have we achieved?
Using Park Ranger Data to Manage the Park
- All ongoing monitoring is being performed by rangers, who are employed by the RwandaDevelopment Board (RDB) and have been trained in scientific data collection and analysis.
- To support rangers collect accurate data, WCS and its partners have developed new research tools, including a field training guide, Management Information System and Technology (MIST) GIS software and two new ranger posts—for an overall total of eight—to extend patrol coverage and facilitate data gathering.
Tracking Biodiversity through Surveys
- Bird, plant and mammal surveys have identified close to 300 species of birds (including 26 Albertine Rift endemics that live in on other forest in the world), over 1100 species of plants and 85 species of mammals, which include 13 primate species and at least 40 different small mammal species.
- Plant surveys have identified and tracked the fruit and flowering cycles of 960 individual trees across 70 different species that occur within an elevation between 1800 and 2900 meters. Each tree is visited monthly and data are recorded about the quantity of leaves, fruits and flowers. This information allows researchers and park managers to understand the feeding ecology of chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and other popular species frequently observed by tourists, as well as how climate change affects the flowering and fruiting patterns of tropical forest trees.