Part of the Global Biodiversity Hotspots, the Taita Hills forests in Taita Taveta County in southeastern Kenya form the northernmost tip of the Eastern Arc Mountains. These are highly fragmented forests embedded in human settlements and farms on the slopes and hilltops, resulting in the loss of 98% of the original forest cover on these mountains.
Despite several botanical explorations and extensive floristic studies in these mountainous areas, there is a clear lack of adequate literature on the flora and vegetation of the area. Through a joint effort of the Sino-Africa Joint Research Center (SAJOREC) and the National Museums of Kenya, several field expeditions were conducted between 2015 and 2019 to extend geographic coverage to areas where plant collections were previously scarce.
Collected specimens are kept in the East African Herbarium of the National Museums of Kenya, with duplicates kept in the Herbarium of the Wuhan Botanical Gardens of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In addition, the researchers sorted out plants previously collected at Taita Hills and supplemented records from field studies to the point of creating a comprehensive checklist of the area.
In this study, researchers documented 1594 taxa, 709 genera and 159 families of vascular plants in the Taita Hills, accounting for 25.33% of all vascular plants found in Kenya. Of these, 83 are threatened, 17 endemic, 58 near endemic and 59 exotic taxa.
They also found that Euphorbiaceae, Orchidaceae, and Rubiaceae are the most important families in Taita Hills in terms of species richness, endemism, and conservation status, as they all have significant numbers in all three categories. Although the mound fragments have often received more attention in terms of botanical investigation, they found that the mound slopes also exhibit high levels of species richness and diversity.
Despite their intense degradation and a small settlement area, the forests of the Taita Hills exhibit a high degree of plant diversity as well as rare and endemic plant species. There is a need for conservation efforts in the area, both in terms of policy and research; B. A survey of all forest fragments to establish clear demarcation boundaries to prevent further encroachment, and the creation of a localized International Union for Conservation of Nature Criteria Red List to determine the level of threat to Taita Hills species , as some species are not globally threatened but face local extinction within the Taita Hills.
The Taita Hills are part of the local community culture and people have used these forests for many years. More community-based conservation programs should be introduced to promote the sustainable use of renewable forest resources while promoting regeneration.
This study was published on PhytoKeys entitled “An Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Taita Hills, Eastern Arc Mountain” and was financially supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and SAJOREC of CAS.
Currently, the Wuhan Botanical Garden, in collaboration with the Kenya National Museum, has completed the compilation of vascular plants in Kenya’s key areas of plant diversity, including Mount Kenya, Cherangani Hills, Aberdare Ranges, Nandi Forests, Coastal Forests of Kenya and Taita Hills. These results provide important raw materials for the study and compilation of the Flora of Kenya.