Assessing how climate change will affect different ecosystems across Africa’s Albertine Rift

Rocio Ponce-Reyes (1), Andy Plumtre (2), Dan Segan (3), Sam Ayebare (4), Richard Fuller (5), Hugh Possingham (6), James Watson (7)

1 CSIRO, EcoSciences Precinct -41 Boggo Rd, Dutton Pa rk, 4102, Brisbane, Queensland, 4104,

2 WCS Uganda Program, PO Box 7487 Kampa la, Uganda , a

3 WCS 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York, 10460 -1068, dbsega

4 WCS Uganda Program, PO Box 7487 Kampa la, Uganda ,

5 School of Biological Sciences, University of Queens land, Brisbane, Queensland, 4072,

6 CEED,  NESP, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, 4072,  and Imperial College London,

7 WCS 2300 Southern Bouleva rd, Bronx, New York, 10460 -1068 and School of Geography, Planning and Environment, University of

Queensland, jwatson@wcs .org


Africa’s Albertine Rift is a biodiversity hotspot with a wide-ranging altitudinal gradient that may be severely impacted by climate change driven distribution shifts. Biodiversity, conservation and ecosystem function will suffer substantial to severe impacts resulting from the contraction, complete destruction or shifting of existing ecosystems. Yet, expansion of existing ecosystems, creation of new ones or no changes to current ecosystem distribution provide unexplored opportunities for mitigating negative impacts. Here we assess how the Rift’s seven major ecosystems may respond to climate change using novel methods that determine the amount and state of their distributional change. We used Maxent and global circulation models from the AR4 (for 2050 and 2080) and AR5 (for 2050 and 2070) emission scenarios to model the potential distributions of each ecosystem. We found the most threatened ecosystem is the bamboo forest (expected to disappear completely by 2070), followed by the alpine ecosystem which is forecast to contract by 86%. Only the northern savannah is expected to expand, and therefore suggesting the potential creation of a new ecotone. All ecosystems are predicted to shift in altitude between 2-98% (depending on the ecosystem and the year). We also found that both datasets yielded similar patterns, although they differed in the amount of change. This has serious implications for those species inhabiting the high-altitude ecosystems. Beyond the Albertine Rift, this technique can be easily adapted to any terrestrial region, even to a reas where species knowledge is still limited, hence providing valuable information for conservation assessment and planning.