27 March 2024 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Prof Peter Taylor
Prof Peter Taylor started collaborating with Prof Julian Bayliss 15 years ago and became involved in the wider SEAMA project.

A few weeks ago (on 5 March 2024), the first announcement went out for the Second Southern African Mountain Conference (SAMC2025). The first mountain conference, which took place in 2022, was described by Prof Ralph Clark, Director of the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) at the University of the Free State (UFS), as a “wonderful event that greatly encouraged regional collegiality around Southern African mountains”.

The 2022 conference brought together academics, researchers, early career professionals, practitioners, policy makers, postgraduate students, and government officials, who among others, exchanged research findings and developed partnerships regarding the transboundary and transdisciplinary sustainability of Southern African mountains. One of the attendees – also a speaker at the event – was Prof Julian Bayliss, Biodiversity and Protected Areas Specialist and Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes University. The paper, A biogeographical appraisal of the threatened South East Africa Montane Archipelago ecoregion, which he presented at SAMC2022, was recently accepted and published in the prestigious journal, Nature Scientific Reports.

At SAMC2022, Prof Bayliss formally proposed the new mountain ecoregion for Africa, spanning the mountains of southern Malawi and northern Mozambique, for the first time. According to him, preliminary evidence for a new biogeographically distinct montane ecoregion was first proposed in 2014, and subsequently corroborated. “The name South East Africa Montane Archipelago (SEAMA) was suggested in 2019 at the Annual General Meeting of the Transglobe Expedition Trust, Royal Geographical Society, London, and formally proposed in 2022 at the Southern African Mountain Conference in South Africa,” he states.

Prof Peter Taylor’s involvement

More than 20 years of research and 30 scientific expeditions have revealed what Prof Bayliss describes as a “wealth of previously undocumented biodiversity in a newly recognised ecoregion.”

More than a hundred specialists from around the world were involved in the research. One of the scientists is Prof Peter Taylor, the ARU’s first ‘Professor in Residence’, who is also affiliated to the UFS Department of Zoology and Entomology. His work focuses on communities of bats and other small mammals in natural and agricultural landscapes in predominantly Afromontane regions of Southern Africa.

Fifteen years ago, he started collaborating with Prof Bayliss and became involved in the wider SEAMA project when several new vertebrate and invertebrate species were being discovered from isolated ‘inselbergs’ in northern Mozambique, including a new species of bat, Rhinolopus mabuensis, described by Prof Taylor.

“Biologists realised that plants and animals from this ‘archipelago’ of mountains – with Mount Mabu the largest and Mount Lico the smallest – were closely affiliated with similar mountain ranges in Malawi, and quite distinct from those found in the Manica Highlands of eastern Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique. The uniqueness of the SEAMA was realised, but it took several years to synthesise the research and motivation for a new ecoregion, drawing on a very wide range of botanical and zoological expertise,” says Prof Taylor.

Ecoregion a platform for regional conservation initiatives

According to Prof Bayliss, the study documents 127 plant species and 90 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, butterflies, and freshwater crabs, all of which are found nowhere else on earth. He comments that ecoregions are widely used to inform global conservation priorities. “They define large expanses of land or water, characterised by geographically distinct assemblages of animals and plants. New ecoregion definitions are rare, and typically follow many years of research across a range of scientific disciplines.”

He believes this new ecoregion will create an important platform from which to develop regional conservation initiatives.

Prof Taylor says the ARU highly values its involvement in this project, because the project contributes directly to the ARU’s mission. “The research unit is working to facilitate development and capacity building of an African-based mountain research ‘community of practice’ of high excellence that informs global mountain research theory and practice and contributes to mountain-related policy and governance from an African perspective, thus balancing a predominance of mountain research driven from the Global North and Northern Hemisphere,” he states.

Applicable resources:

  • Access the full media statement about Prof Bayliss’ paper here.
  • Access the paper in Nature Scientific Reports here.
  • Access an article about the paper that was published in Mongabay, the popular environmental journal.
  • Access the ecoregion video here.
  • Access an interview broadcast on Beyond the Headlines here.

Photo credit for gallery : Julian Bayliss, William Roy Branch, Christophe Bernier, Ara Monadjem, Colin Congdon, Iain Darbyshire

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.