Project

Herpetofaunal Conservation Assessment of Uganda

  • Mathias BehanganaMathias Behangana
  • Eli GreenbaumEli Greenbaum
  • Danny Hughes (PhD Student at University of Texas El Paso) and Wilber Lukwago (MSc. student at Makerere University)

Goal: Our team is conducting an exhaustive herpetofaunal survey of multiple sites in Uganda to: (1) assess the conservation status of all amphibians and reptiles that are present; (2) improve herpetofaunal species lists for the sites and describe new species; (3) improve natural history information for poorly known species (i.e., record calls, describe tadpoles, note interesting behavior and ecology); and (4) train American and Ugandan biologists on herpetological taxonomy, ecology and field techniques.

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Daniel F Hughes
added 2 research items
1. The area of the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta is among the most important for conservation in East Africa due to the high species richness, and the presence of several endemic species of conservation concern. 2. Here, we report a study on the diversity patterns and community structure of the herpetofauna of this area. 3. Field studies were conducted in the Albert Nile Delta Ramsar site between 1st October 2017 and 9th September 2018. The data collection relied on Visual Encounter Surveys (VES), pitfall trapping, and dip netting. Descriptive statistics, i.e. species numbers in each transect were used as a measure of the present biodiversity, whereas Chao1 and Chao species estimator algorithms were used to predict the potential number of species found in each site/habitat. 4. A total of 898 individuals representing 25 reptile species belonging to four orders, 15 families, and 20 genera were recorded during the 12 months of surveys. 5. The data shows some non-random spatial and temporal patterns whereby there is a cyclic reptilian diversity peaking during the December-March and again towards June-August-September which are peaks of the dry season. 6. The most frequently encountered species were Varanus niloticus, Crocodylus niloticus, Agama agama, Trachyl-epis maculilabris, and Lygodactylus guttularis, which accounted for almost 90% of all recorded individuals. 7. A total of 27 amphibian species, belonging to nine families and 10 genera were recorded during the period of the survey. The diversity and abundance graphs would indicate amphibians having bimodal peaks (September-December, and March-May). The diversity seemed to dip during the dry season months-which is the opposite case for reptiles.
Mathias Behangana
added 12 research items
This article is about the new records and Geographic Distribution of Naja haje - the Egyptian Cobra in Uganda
This article is about the new records and Geographic Distribution of Naja nigricollis - the Black-necked Spitting Cobra in Uganda
Daniel F Hughes
added a research item
African snake-eaters of the genus Polemon are cryptic, fossorial snakes that mainly inhabit the forests of central, eastern, and western Africa. Molecular results from a previous study demonstrated that Polemon christyi is not monophyletic-two distinct lineages were recovered from Uganda (the type locality) and southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Genetic data indicated differences in sequence divergence and encoded amino acids between these lineages. Based on these molecular differences and diagnostic differences in morphology, we describe the lineage from southeastern DRC as a new species. Literature records indicate that it likely occurs in adjacent Tanzania and Zambia. It is the first species of Polemon to be described in over 70 years.
Mathias Behangana
added a research item
Atractaspidines are poorly studied, fossorial snakes that are found throughout Africa and western Asia, including the Middle East. We employed concatenated gene-tree analyses and divergence dating approaches to investigate evolutionary relationships and biogeographic patterns of atractaspidines with a multi-locus data set consisting of three mitochondrial (16S, cyt b, and ND4) and two nuclear genes (c-mos and RAG1). We sampled 91 individuals from both atractaspidine genera (Atractaspis and Homoroselaps). Additionally, we used ancestral-state reconstructions to investigate fang and diet evolution within Atractaspidinae and its sister lineage (Aparallactinae). Our results indicated that current classification of atractaspidines underestimates diversity within the group. Diversification occurred predominantly between the Miocene and Pliocene. Ancestral-state reconstructions suggest that snake dentition in these taxa might be highly plastic within relatively short periods of time to facilitate adaptations to dynamic foraging and life-history strategies.
Mathias Behangana
added a research item
Uganda is one of the most species rich countries in Africa because of the presence of several major biomes. However, it is also a country that has lost much of its natural habitat to agriculture. Uganda is a country that has been better surveyed for its biodiversity than many African countries, but despite this, there has not been a comprehensive analysis of the critical sites that contribute to biodiversity conservation at a global, as well as at a national level. We here present such an assessment using mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants as surrogate taxa. We identified 36 terrestrial sites that are of sufficient global importance to qualify as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), using the Global Standard for the Identification of KBAs, which complement an additional nine freshwater sites. National red listing of species and ecosystems was used to identify sites of national importance for conservation. We employ a conservation planning approach using Marxan to identify the minimum set of sites needed to conserve all the globally and nationally threatened species and nationally threatened habitats in Uganda. The findings show that most of the remaining natural habitat in Uganda is important for the conservation of globally and nationally threatened species and threatened habitat. Large areas of irreplaceable habitat occur outside protected areas, although more extensive surveys of these areas would likely reduce the area that is irreplaceable. Priority areas for conservation of both globally and nationally threatened species are identified for the first time in Uganda. Our analysis shows that most natural habitat remaining in the country is critical for the conservation of the rich biodiversity of this country.
Daniel F Hughes
added a research item
We provide data derived from nearly four months of field surveys on the distribution, natural history, and habitat of the poorly known Sudanese Unicorn Chameleon (Trioceros conirostratus) from Northern Region, Uganda, Africa. Our study also provides the first description of the reproductive mode and an estimate of the litter size for T. conirostratus. Multiple individuals of T. conirostratus were detected from mid-high elevation wooded-grassland and closed-forest habitats in six Central Forest Reserves across northeastern Uganda during surveys conducted in 2015 and 2016. Trioceros conirostratus is viviparous as evidenced by the presence of well-developed embryos that lacked eggshells in the oviducts. Twelve embryos were present in one of the females. Adult males were smaller on average than adult females. The presence of variously sized juveniles with non-gravid and gravid adult females during surveys at the same site suggested that this species might exhibit asynchronous reproduction. We observed a possible mechanism for predator deterrence in this species from repulsive material stored in temporal pouches. Our results greatly expand the distribution, and significantly add to the knowledge on the reproductive biology and natural history of T. conirostratus in Uganda.
Mathias Behangana
added a research item
Several biogeographic barriers in the Central African highlands have reduced gene flow among populations of many terrestrial species in predictable ways. Yet, a comprehensive understanding of mechanisms underlying species divergence in the Afrotropics can be obscured by unrecognized levels of cryptic diversity, particularly in widespread species. We implemented a multilocus phylogeographic approach to examine diversity within the widely distributed Central African pygmy chameleon, Rhampholeon boulengeri. Gene-tree analyses coupled with a comparative coalescent-based species delimitation framework revealed R. boulengeri as a complex of at least six genetically distinct species. The spatiotemporal speciation patterns for these cryptic species conform to general biogeographic hypotheses supporting vicariance as the main factor behind patterns of divergence in the Albertine Rift, a biodiversity hotspot in Central Africa. However, we found that parapatric species and sister species inhabited adjacent habitats, but were found in largely non-overlapping elevational ranges in the Albertine Rift, suggesting that differentiation in elevation was also an important mode of divergence. The phylogeographic patterns recovered for the genus-level phylogeny provide additional evidence for speciation by isolation in forest refugia, and dating estimates indicated that the Miocene was a significant period for this diversification. Our results highlight the importance of investigating cryptic diversity in widespread species to improve understanding of diversification patterns in environmentally diverse regions such as the montane Afrotropics.
Mathias Behangana
added an update
Daniel F. Hughes1, Eli Greenbaum1, Lukwago Wilber2, and Mathias Behangana2
1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso, 500 West University Avenue, El Paso, TX 79968, USA
2Department of Environmental Management, Makerere University, Kampala, Ugand
 
Mathias Behangana
added a research item
The Albertine Rift (AR) is a centre for vertebrate endemism in Central Africa, yet the mechanisms underlying line-age diversification of the region's fauna remain unresolved. We generated a multilocus molecular phylogeny consisting of two mitochondrial (16S and ND2) and one nuclear (RAG1) gene to reconstruct relationships and examine spatiotemporal diversification patterns in the AR endemic forest chameleon, Kinyongia adolfifriderici (Sternfeld, 1912). This widely distributed species was revealed to be a complex of four genetically distinct and geographically isolated species. Three new species are described based on molecular analyses and morphological examinations. We find that K. rugegensis sp. nov. (Rugege Highlands) and K. tolleyae sp. nov. (Kigezi Highlands) form a well-supported clade, which is sister to K. gyrolepis (Lendu Plateau). Kinyongia itombwensis sp. nov. (Itombwe Plateau) was recovered as sister to K. adolfifriderici (Ituri Rainforest). The phylogeographic patterns we recovered for Kinyongia suggest that speciation stemmed from isolation in forest refugia. Our estimated diversification dates in the Miocene indicate that most species of Kinyongia diverged prior to the aridification of Africa following climate fluctuations during the Pleistocene. Our results highlight the AR as a focal point of diversification for Kinyongia, further elevating the global conservation importance of this region.
Mathias Behangana
added a project goal
Our team is conducting an exhaustive herpetofaunal survey of multiple sites in Uganda to: (1) assess the conservation status of all amphibians and reptiles that are present; (2) improve herpetofaunal species lists for the sites and describe new species; (3) improve natural history information for poorly known species (i.e., record calls, describe tadpoles, note interesting behavior and ecology); and (4) train American and Ugandan biologists on herpetological taxonomy, ecology and field techniques.