Category Archives: climate

Badru’s story nominated for a Film Festival Award!

I have been off for a while. I congratulate Andrew and Lucy for a job well done. They kept you updated with the on-going ITFC research and other activities through a continued flow of blogs.

Here is an update of what has happened during my absentia. Some of you must have already watched/heard about it. I am talking about the ‘Badru’s story’……….

Sometime last year, Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele visited Bwindi. Benj and Sara are a documentary team ( that specializes in multimedia stories about people, nature and climate. During their visit, they followed Badru and his team through the rugged terrain of park, capturing every detail of the camera trap setting, tree measurement and climate station maintenance procedures.  A product of their trip was a short movie documenting the TEAM Network’s activities in Bwindi.

The approximately six-minute movie titled ‘Badru’s story’ starring ITFC and TEAM Network’s very own Badru Mugerwa can be watched in HD for free on line This is the first in a three-part series that are yet to be produced. The movie also featured Dr. Douglas Sheil (ITFC, CIFOR and Southern Cross University), Raymond Kato and Job Nahabwe (Uganda Wildlife Authority) and ITFC field assistants (Lawrence Tumuhagirwe and Avetino Nkwasibwe).

The great news is that ‘Badru’s story’ was nominated for the 40th Telluride Film Festival Award. This is very exciting to Badru,, ITFC, UWA and the TEAM Network.  We hope the movie wins the award. Fingers crossed!!!

Below I present to you some of the highlights from the movie  ‘a pictorial movie trailer’. Please enjoy.

The ITFC/UWA/TEAM Network camera trapping team in Bwindi. From left to right: Avetino, Badru, Lawrence (ITFC) and Job (UWA). Standing at the back is Moses (local guide).

The ITFC/UWA/TEAM Network camera trapping team in Bwindi. From left to right: Avetino, Badru, Lawrence (ITFC) and Job (UWA). Standing at the back is Moses (local guide).

On all four:  Badru doing a 'walk test' in front of a camera trap during camera trap setting

On all four: Badru imitates a walking animal by doing a ‘walk test’ in front of a camera trap during camera trap setting.

Measuring a ‘problem tree’: Badru demonstrating how to take diameter measurements of a buttressed tree.

Measuring a ‘problem tree’: Badru demonstrating how to take diameter measurements of a buttressed tree.

Uuhm,  Bwindi’s  beautiful rugged landscape covered by the early morning mist

Bwindi’s beautiful rugged landscape covered by the early morning mist


How would we ever live without Bwindi? Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

 Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.





Phenology week at ITFC

This week we joined Frederick Ssali (ITFC’s research officer) and other ITFC research assistants conducting their long-term phenology monitoring project. This programme was borne from a long-term phenology project started in 2004, focusing on gorilla food trees, which itself began after a PhD student conducted phenology studies linked to gorillas in 2000. The data from gorilla-focused studies was limited, so this more general project was started in 2011, thanks to a grant from WCS for Climate Change Studies in Bwindi.

photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Every month, a team of highly trained field assistants collect data on 52 species of selected trees from plots on three transects. The team’s skilled eyes examine fruit, flowers and leaves using binoculars. Information is collected for both the canopy and the ground, on the number of ripe, unripe and rotten fruit, as well as the number of flower buds and open flowers and the number of new, old, dead and damaged leaves. The observational ability of the field assistants is amazing!

ITFC researcher observing a tree for phenology.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

This project aims to link plant cues for flowering, fruit and leafing to climate change and plants’ responses to climate change. It is also relevant for agriculture as it can help inform farmers about pollination issues and timing of when to plant crops. Such general forest ecology knowledge is highly important for understanding the forest ecosystem and contributes greatly to other studies in Bwindi. It can, for example, inform about when certain food items as available for particular animals.

fruits and leaves of Olinia rochetiana (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Fowers of Allophylus abyssinica (both photos by Andrew Kirkby)


The first analysis of the data is ongoing and Frederick aims to publish the results this year. Although the funding is coming to an end, the hope is that the value of this project will be recognised so that ITFC receives funding to continue this on a long-term basis.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Lucy and Andrew

97 new species for Bwindi, 33 for Uganda and 4 for science … and counting

You may remember we hosted a study of our lichens here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park earlier this year. Recently I asked Andreas for an update. He sent an interim report developed with his colleagues in Sweden: Lena and Thor.

Let me share a short summary.

The collections have turned out to be richer, and indeed more exciting, than we had anticipated. To summarise progress : of 240 distinct species 99 have been identified and confirmed so far. Each record has to be carefully checked and confirmed. This process is continuing.

Of the 99 species identified, four are new to science. 33 additional species are reported for the first time in Uganda and one appears to be new for Africa. All but two of these 99 species (i.e. 97) are reported for the first time from Bwindi.

Andreas gives a training on lichens in ITFC Bwindi earlier in 2011

Still many new species out there? Bwindi near Ruhija

The species thought new to Africa is Coenogonium leprieurii. Andreas and co. say the four new species will be formally described within the next few months (provisional names: Acanthotrema nuda, Arthonia physcidiicola, Chiodecton sorediatum and Crypthonia coccifera). I shall be lobbying for an “ITFCensis” or two in there.

In the longer run when we have the species sorted the fuller ecological characterisation will be done (what species like what kind of environments etc) … We’ll keep you informed. That study will clarify the relationship of these species with climate and other factors.

It may be a while until lichen tourism competes with gorilla tourism — but who knows? Don’t underestimate Bwindi’s lichens.

Best wishes


Africa’s first GLORIA sites established on the Mountains of the Moon

Dear esteemed reader,

We are glad to be back from establishing the first GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) sites in Africa – on the Rwenzori (popularly known as the Mountains of the Moon) and Elgon mountains.  You will have seen some of the earlier pictures from Rwenzori.

Frost, snow, hailstones,freezing temperatures, strong winds, heavy rains and mist – all combined, formed some of the hardships we endured on these intriguing mountains, we could not avoid but wallow in deep bogs, endure bouts of high altitude sickness as well as labour to catch some sleep!!! If it was not for the encouragement of our experienced guides, we may as well have given up before reaching our camps. Nonetheless, the expedition was so exciting that we will live to remember the mind-blowing sight of the spectacular snow-capped peaks, the extensive and gentle calderas and the days we huddled around the charcoal stove just to get some warmth.

GLORIA targets high mountain regions because of their similar climatic conditions across the globe. This makes it possible to compare climate-induced changes worldwide. In addition, mountains host high diversity of plants and animals, many of which can only survive at such high altitudes characterized by low temperatures. Low-temperature limits of plant life on high mountains are considered to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Therefore, potential biodiversity losses caused by climate change may be more pronounced for mountain ecosystems compared to ecosystems of lower altitudes. More still, high mountain environments comprise real wilderness habitats with ecosystems undisturbed by direct anthropogenic influence. Our study will contribute to the global data base which will allow for comparisons of climate change impacts across continents.

This long term monitoring initiative is being implemented in areas where these changes are expected to occur fastest. One hundred twenty eight 1m2 permanent sampling quadrants were established at eight mountain tops (GLORIA Summits) on both sites. Within the quadrants, plant species composition and abundance were assessed. The quadrants were also photographed to provide an overview of plant cover. The summits were geo-referenced using the Global Positioning System (GPS). These high altitude plots were established from 4000 meters ASL. Thirty two data loggers (four at each summit) were installed in the ground to record soil temperature. By comparing plant species composition and soil temperature records, we will get a better understanding of the influence of global warming on plant migrations to higher elevations. All these summits will be re-measured after five years.

The good news is that in Rwenzori some peaks still have glaciers. However, these glaciers are receding fast. One of our experienced guides, John Muhindo told us that there were glaciers even at Elena Hut (about 4500m ASL) in the 1970s. During our fieldwork from the same point, the glaciers appeared to have receded some 300 meters high-up the mountain. We think this could largely be attributed to climate change.

We are proud to pioneer this type of research in Africa. Our team of enthusiastic scientists included ITFC’s Badru Mugerwa, Robert Barigyira and Fredrick Ssali; WCS botanist Ben Kirunda; UWA rangers Abel Basikania, Erick Mulewa, Alfred Masereka, Joseph Wasike, James Matanda, Patrick Muzaale, Alex Salim, Francis Musobo and Mike Mazune. Special thanks go to our trainers Anton Seimon, Stephan Halloy and Mariana Musicante for demonstrating to us the GLORIA methods.

Below are pictures to highlight our GLORIA fieldwork in Rwenzori and Elgon;

Heading for GLORIA field work above 4000 m ASL: the Rwenzori GLORIA team leaves Guy Yeoman hut for the base camp at Kitandara camping ground

Plot established: This GLORIA summit was established near Elena hut at about 4500m ASL in Rwenzori

Another plot established: this GLORIA summit was established at about 4200m ASL in Rwenzori

Men at work: Salim B. Alex (with a pointing stick), Joseph Wasike (middle) and James Matanda identifying plants in the sampling grid of a high altitude GLORIA summit in Elgon

At work: Mulewa Erick (left holding tape on string), Badru Mugerwa (right with black jacket holding clipboard) and Robert Barigyira (in green walking along the tape) record plants in a GLORIA summit of Elgon

One of the GLORIA summits in Elgon with string delimiting the sampling sections: the field team shelters data sheets from a drizzle in misty weather

All smiles… Badru and I after establishing GLORIA plots in Rwenzori


Badru Mugerwa and Fredrick Ssali

An unusual proposal – part II – CoFCCLoT exposed

If you were intrigued by CoFCCLoT‘s proposal to re-introduce lions to Greece in a recent post you might be interested in a fuller explanation. You might find it amusing too.

The Same Boat, Different Views. (c)

Please see the Mongabay summary here and the full article here (it is free for 3 months thanks to the publishers).  Feedback is welcome.

Best wishes


Beautiful pictures from the Rwenzori expedition

Dear friends of ITFC,

Our team has descended from setting up the GLORIA plots on the Rwenzori Mountains! We expect them back at the station later today.

WCS’ Anton Seimon, who trained the team came back a few days earlier and send us some pictures. We share them here with you, as the beauty of this place is really stunning. But some suffering was unavoidable: they had it tough, with days of snow fall, wet feet after walking through the bogs and worries about one of the porters who fell sick and had to be rescued from above 4000 m.a.s.l.

Here is a glimps of where they were and what they saw (courtesy Anton):


Camp at Guy Yeoman, surrounded by giant groundsels (a Senecio spp)


Time for relaxing (and warming up?). This picture does not make it look that rough!


Vegetation? Does anyone see it? Quite a different environment for forest researchers from Bwindi!


The team at work laying out a GLORIA plot


The grid used in the detailed description of the high altitude vegetation plots


All these meters of rope can get quite in the way! The greyish shrub is one of the Helichrysum ‘everlasting flowers’.


The team surrounded by giant groundsel rozettes and old flower stems.



And last but not least; what is left over of the glaciers on Rwenzori’s tops…

Soon more from their experience up there in the ‘abode of the little gods’,


ITFC sets up the first African GLORIA plots on Mount Rwenzori

Dear followers of ITFC’s blog

We have just come back from the footslopes of the Rwenzori mountains, on the border between Uganda and DR-Congo. We had a 1-day workshop there to introduce a new monitoring activity: ITFC will lead a new study that will set up high altitude plots (well above the treeline, around 4000 m.a.s.l.) to follow temperature and vegetation trends over decades to come. These are the first such plots in Africa!

Climate change is expected to hit hardest and fastest at high altitudes, where plants are adapted to cold and have little area to move to once it gets too warm. A perfect setting for research on the impact of climate change! We need data to know what is happening.


GLORIA trainer Stephan Halloy -of The Nature Conservancy- explains what impact climate change may have on species at high altitude.

For over a decade mountain researchers from around the world have developed and agreed a protocol for standardised data collection, called ‘GLORIA’ (Global Alpine Research Initiative in Alpine Environments). Plots have been set up in the Alps, and other parts of Europe, and more recently in the Andes, New Zealand and Asia. But until now not in Africa. The team ITFC put together is setting up the plots on the Rwenzori mountains right now. Included in the team are staff of the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s Research and Monitoring unit, WCS’s botanist Ben Kirunda who has some alpine experience, and ITFC staff Fredric Ssali, Robert Barigyira and Badru Mugerwa.

We had also invited local community members to the planning and training workshop. The mountain, and particularly its snow covered parts, are the abode of the ‘little gods’ of the Bakonjo who live on Rwenzori’s footslopes. They consider the mountain their cultural home and do not like to see their gods disturbed. Their elders shared the ‘cultural behavioral guidelines’ to be followed while on the mountain with the team and two members of their cultural organisation joined the expedition as guides. Rules include to avoid pointing at any of the peaks of the mountain and to referain from referrring to them by their sacred names.


Community representatives listen to the presentations and contributed their views on climate change and what the team should avoid doing on the mountain to stay on good terms with the “little gods”

After the workshop, we sorted out all the scientific, camping and personal equipment for the team; an impressive quantity! In the night, a thunderstorm broke loose and rain pounded the roofs for 4 hours… It made us think about how conditions for camping on the mountain would be, but according to the local people, this was Rwenzori’s welcome and a positive omen!


Over 40 porters assisted bringing up the required gear and food for the GLORIA team


RMNP’s Research & Monitoring ranger Alfred Masereka briefs the team before starting the ascent


Our GLORIA team just before entering Rwenzori Mountains National Park

The team started climbing in good spirits: it will take 3 days to get to the base camp from where they will select sites for the plots. We look forward to their stories ‘from above’!

Miriam and Douglas

Using flowers and fruits as indicators of climate change in Bwindi

Dear reader,

Do you love flowers? Do you love fruits? Why do you love them? There are many answers to these questions. Let me tell you my experience with flowers and fruits of trees in Bwindi. My love for flowers and fruits has been boosted following fieldwork around ITFC to locate trees for studying ‘phenology’ i.e. the flowering and fruiting patterns of trees. Until recently, I loved watching bright flowers and fruits only for leisure. I also thought that fruits in a natural forest like Bwindi are only useful as food for animals including gorillas, elephants, chimps and monkeys. However, this fieldwork has helped improve my understanding of flowers and fruits. Every month, we go out to check on plots we set up for monitoring phenology. In this field work, I am assisted by other ITFC staff including Christopher, Savio, Margaret, Joseph Mukasa, Peter Mukasa and Anaclet Owomuhangi. We check with binoculars for the presence of flowers and fruits and we also take photos to capture their beauty.

I guess you want to ask; why do we need a study like this? Well, the answer is that it is a way to monitor the possible impacts of climate change on plants. Studies elsewhere have already shown that some plants have expanded their geographic range in response to increasing temperatures. But also, plants may respond to the changing seasons by changing the timing of their phenology. For example, trees may flower and fruit earlier than their ‘normal’ season in response to an early start of season, say rainy season. Similarly, deciduous trees may shed their leaves later than they used to in case of a delay in the dry season. Changes in the timing of flowering and fruiting by trees may have a strong influence especially on pollination of plants and feeding of fruit-eating animals in Bwindi. Although studies elsewhere have revealed phenological responses to climate change, no study of this kind has been done in Bwindi yet. Thus, we need this study to help us better understand the potential effects of climate change on plants as well as animals in Bwindi.

The pictures below show some of the flowers and fruits in our phenology fieldwork;

Picture 1: Savio (with binoculars) and I looking out for fruits and flowers in a crown of a tree

Picture 2: Flower buds of Nuxia congesta

Picture 3: The purple fruits above belong to Rapanea melanophloeos

Picture 4: at the moment, Allophylus abyssinicus trees are full of bright red fruits

Picture 5: Fruits of Pittosporum trees are yellow when ripe

Picture 6: The red and purple berries of Rubus looking splendid indeed!

Mimulopsis arborescens is common in Bwindi’s valleys but only comes once in so many years

Mimulopsis arborescens is common in Bwindi’s valleys but only comes once in so many years

I will keep you posted on our findings. Watch this space.

Fredrick Ssali

Soil carbon stocks “still high” following forest loss around Bwindi

Dear Readers,

This is Ronald again. My project on land-cover change, soil organic carbon and soil properties in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finally came to an end. I had a wonderful experience doing research in Bwindi and more so interacting with scientists and staff at ITFC. My study had several objectives but for this blog, I will share two: to examine the dynamics of forest cover change in and around Bwindi between 1973 and 2010 and to understand how forest cover change impacted on soil organic carbon stocks. This study involved both field and laboratory work. I have interesting results to share.

Carbon is stored in many forms in the terrestrial ecosystem. It can be stored in vegetation, soil and water bodies. Soil stores the largest part of carbon and much of this is what I refer to here as soil organic carbon or “SOC” (There are other forms of carbon but for this study I considered only the organic carbon). Vegetation cover (including forest) is known to store the highest amount of SOC compared to other land uses (includes agricultural land uses). Change of forests to agricultural land uses generally leads to a loss in SOC. This could be in the form of carbon dioxide which is a green house gas. Studies indicate that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has contributed greatly to global climate change.

Sharp boundary where paired sites were demarcated inside and outside the forest

Paired sites were used for comparisons of SOC and other soil characteristics inside the forest and adjacent agricultural land uses. The changes in the land use/cover were obtained by analyzing a series of satellite images and cross-checking the land uses as classified by computer. I did that by looking on the ground, talking to local people and using other records. I found that protected forest had declined in area by 7.8% and forest cover in areas outside the national park had declined by 70.7% as small scale farming and tea plantations increased by 13.9% and 78.3% respectively between 1973 and 2010. Small scale farming and tea plantations had increased significantly at the expense of tree cover. The conversions were attributed to land use pressure due to population growth and increased demand for food.

Peter Mukasa measures depth of different soil layers in a forest soil profile

Deo obtaining a soil core sample from a plot under grazing land

To assess SOC stocks in the different land uses, field measurements and laboratory tests were done. Results showed that SOC stocks (density) had surprisingly increased in potato, tea and grazing land uses at different landscape positions and slope faces following forest conversion in the top soil. In most however, there was very little difference between the forest and agricultural land uses.

The severe loss of forest outside the national park poses a potential threat to the protected forest (Bwindi) as demand of fuel and agricultural land increases. Because Bwindi is relatively well protected, it implies that people have to opt for other avenues to meet their demands. They have to weigh how to use their lands to balance between growing of trees for fuel and intensive crop cultivation to meet the food demands. Perhaps if these communities received some incentives from the UN-REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus) program, there might be increased forest conservation and reforestation in areas that were cut down but this means the benefits have to outweigh the other land use options.

Although soil organic carbon stocks sometimes increased in density following forest conversion, it does not provide a basis for further loss of forest land to agricultural land uses because of the forests’ important role in the global carbon cycle (here we have not been talking about the large amounts of carbon locked up in trees which is lots when the trees are cleared). (Douglas’s editorial note: also it seems plausible, even likely, that the increase in SOC density in the non-forest land-uses is not a sign that overall stocks have increased but results from soil compaction. Forest soils are less dense with lots of space for air and water, soils from other land-uses such as heavily trampled grazing lands are compacted with little space in the soil structure … we have the data so can examine if this is the explanation). The agricultural land uses have to be properly managed to maintain soil fertility and enhance crop production because of the growing populations.

Twongyirwe Ronald.

Frogs worried about the future

Today, Robert Sekisambu, one of our new MSc students introduces his study:

Frogs are fascinating, as bio-indicators and as natural jewels, but they may be facing decline or even extinction, due to factors such as habitat loss, infectious diseases, climate change and pollution. This may even happen before we know them well enough to know what we’ve lost: amphibians are among the least studied taxa of the animal kingdom, especially compared to birds and mammals. IUCN’s latest statistics estimate that 30% of over 6,000 known amphibian species is threatened.


This is me, taking a swab of a frog I captured

I am currently conducting an inventory of amphibians in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the biodiversity-rich Albertine Rift. At the same time, I am assessing what might threaten them and look into the prevalence of associated threats including the potentially lethal Chytridiomycosis and Ranavirus. Thanks to ITFC and the USAID funded WILDWest project for the support.

Below are some of the first pictures I took of the frogs found in Bwindi, around ITFC. They all seem worried about the future.

Watch this space for more about my progress. I wish you a prosperous new year.

Robert Sekisambu

Leptopelis kivuensis (green moph).JPG

Struggling to live (species not yet identified)

Leptopelis kivuensis.JPG

Albertine Rift tree frog (Leptopelis kivuensis)

Leptopelis k highly keratinized skin.JPG

The same L. kivuensis, with highly keratinised skin

Kisoro toad male.JPG

Kisoro toad (Amietophrynus kisoloensis)