|Hemp, A; Hemp, C: Broken bridges: The isolation of Kilimanjaro’s ecosystem, Global Change Biology, 24(8), 3499-3507 (2018), doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14078 [Link]|
Biodiversity studies of global change mainly focus on direct impacts such as losses in species numbers or ecosystem functions. In this study, we focus on the long‐term effects of recent land‐cover conversion and subsequent ecological isolation of Kilimanjaro on biodiversity in a paleobiogeographical context, linking our findings with the long‐standing question whether colonization of African mountains mainly depended on long‐distance dispersal, or whether gradual migration has been possible through habitat bridges under colder climates. For this, we used Orthoptera as bioindicators, whose patterns of endemism and habitat demands we studied on about 500 vegetation plots on Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru (Tanzania) since 1996. Land‐cover changes in the same area were revealed using a supervised classification of Landsat images from 1976 to 2000. In 1976, there was a corridor of submontane forest vegetation linking Kilimanjaro with Mt. Meru, replaced by human settlements and agriculture after 2000. Until recently, this submontane forest bridge facilitated the dispersal of forest animals, illustrated by the large number of endemic submontane forest Orthoptera shared by both mountains. Furthermore, the occurrence of common montane endemics suggests the existence of a former forest corridor with montane vegetation during much earlier times under climatic conditions 2–7°C cooler and 400–1,700 mm wetter than today. Based on the endemicity patterns of forest Orthoptera, negative consequences are predicted due to the effects of isolation, in particular for larger forest animals. Kilimanjaro is becoming an increasingly isolated ecosystem with far reaching consequences for diversity and endemism. Forest bridges between East African mountains acted as important migratory corridors and are not only a prehistoric phenomenon during periods with other climatic conditions but also disappeared in some places recently due to increasing and direct anthropogenic impact.