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Keywords:

  • alpine vegetation;
  • climate change;
  • East Africa;
  • Erica;
  • forest fires;
  • montane and subalpine cloud forest;
  • vegetation change;
  • vegetation zones

Abstract

The disappearing glaciers of Kilimanjaro are attracting broad interest. Less conspicuous but ecologically far more significant is the associated increase of frequency and intensity of fires on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, which leads to a downward shift of the upper forest line by several hundred meters as a result of a drier (warmer) climate since the last century. In contrast to common belief, global warming does not necessarily cause upward migration of plants and animals. Here, it is shown that on Kilimanjaro the opposite trend is under way, with consequences more harmful than those due to the loss of the showy ice cap of Africa's highest mountain.