Aim The Kakamega Forest, western Kenya, has been biogeographically assigned to both lowland and montane forest biomes, or has even been considered to be unique. Most frequently it has been linked with the Guineo-Congolian rain forest block. The present paper aims to test six alternative hypotheses of the zoogeographical relationships between this forest remnant and other African forests using reptiles as a model group. Reptiles are relatively slow dispersers, compared with flying organisms (Aves and Odonata) on which former hypotheses have been based, and may thus result in a more conservative biogeographical analysis.
Location Kakamega Forest, Kenya, Sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods The reptile diversity of Kakamega Forest was evaluated by field surveys and data from literature resources. Faunal comparisons of Kakamega Forest with 16 other African forests were conducted by the use of the ‘coefficient of biogeographic resemblance’ using the reptile communities as zoogeographic indicators. Parsimony Analysis of Endemism and Neighbour Joining Analysis of Endemism were used to generate relationship trees based on an occurrence matrix with paup*.
Results The analysis clearly supports the hypothesis that the Kakamega Forest is the easternmost fragment of the Guineo-Congolian rain forest belt, and thus more closely related to the forests of that Central–West African complex than to any forest further east, such as the Kenyan coastal forests. Many Kenyan reptile species occur exclusively in the Kakamega Forest and its associated forest fragments.
Main conclusions The Kakamega Forest is the only remnant of the Guineo-Congolian rain forest in the general area. We assume that the low degree of resemblance identified for the Guineo-Congolian forest and the East African coastal forest reflect the long history of isolation of the two forest types from each other. Kenyan coastal forests may have been historically connected through forest ‘bridges’ of the southern highlands with the Congo forest belt, allowing reptile species to migrate between them. The probability of a second ‘bridge’ located in the region of southern Tanzanian inselbergs is discussed. Although not particularly rich in reptile species, the area should be considered of high national priority for conservation measures.