Plants of the Congo River Basin forests

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From left to right: 1) African mahogany Khaya nyasica Liwonde National Park, Malawi. 2) Tropical Flowering Dogwood Mussaenda erythrophylla Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic . 3) Strangler fig Ficus zarzalensisCameroon.
© 1) WWF-Canon / Helena TELKÄNRANTA; 2) & 3) WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY;

Some of the highest species counts in the world

A high number of plant species found nowhere else on Earth makes the Congo River Basin forests vital repositories of biodiversity.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone, 11,000 forest plant species have been described, of which over 1,100 of these are found nowhere else. About 69 species are threatened.1 To the west, Cameroon has 8,000 forest plant species while the Central African Republic (CAR) is home to 1,000 endemic species of plants.

Over 200 different species of plants were found in a 200 m2 plot in Gabon, and 227 were found in a 100 m2 plot in Cameroon: These are among the highest species counts for any vegetation in the world.2

A plant hot-zone

The rainforests of Central Africa, especially from Cameroon to Gabon, have long been recognized as centres of endemism – epicentres of species found nowhere else in the world. Of these centres, the lower Guinea area (the coast from the mouth of Niger River to the mouth of the Congo River) is regarded as the richest.

Reports indicate high levels of endemism both in lowland rainforests and in the montane grasslands on Mount Cameroon.3 Mountain areas and the forests that receive a lot of rainfall on the Atlantic side include many endemic plants. These include:4
  • Caesalpiniaceae trees.
  • Okoumé trees (Burseraceae), found in central Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and to a limited extent in southern Congo-Brazzaville and in Cameroon.

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1 Shumway C, et al. 2003. Biodiversity Survey: Systematics, Ecology, and Conservation Along the Congo River. Congo River Environment and Development Project (CREDP).
2 FORAFRI. Faune. Accessed 7/10/05.
3 Linder. 2001. Plant diversity and endemism in sub-Saharan tropical Africa. Journal of Biogeography, 28, 169±182.
4 FORAFRI. Vegetation. Accessed 7/10/05.

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