Plant Diversity ›› 2020, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (04): 302-311.DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2020.04.004

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Ethiopian vegetation types, climate and topography

Mengesha Asefaa,b, Min Caoa, Yunyun Hea, Ewuketu Mekonnena, Xiaoyang Songa, Jie Yanga   

  1. a CAS, Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 666303, Yunnan, China;
    b Department of Biology, College of Natural and Computational Sciences, University of Gondar, 196, Gondar, Ethiopia
  • Received:2019-11-14 Revised:2020-04-14 Online:2020-08-25 Published:2020-10-14
  • Contact: Mengesha Asefa, Min Cao, Yunyun He, Ewuketu Mekonnen, Xiaoyang Song, Jie Yang

Abstract: Ethiopia is land of geographical contrasts with elevations that range from 125 m below sea level in the Danakil Depression to 4533 m above sea level in the Semien Mountains, a world heritage site. The diverse climate of various ecological regions of the country has driven the establishment of diverse vegetation, which range from Afroalpine vegetation in the mountains to the arid and semi-arid vegetation type in the lowlands. The formation of Ethiopian vegetation is highly connected to the climate and geological history of the country. Highland uplift and rift formation due to volcanic forces formed novel habitats with different topography and climatic conditions that have ultimately become drivers for vegetation diversification. Due to Ethiopia's connection with the temperate biome in the north and the Arabian Peninsula during the dry glacial period, the biotic assemblage of Ethiopian highlands consists of both Afrotropical and palearctic biota. In general, eight distinct vegetation types have been identified in Ethiopia, based mainly on elevation and climate gradients. These vegetation types host their own unique species, but also share several common species. Some of the vegetation types are identified as centers of endemism and have subsequently been identified globally as the East African Afromontane hotspot. Ethiopia is biologically rich, with more than 6500 vascular plant species. Of these species, 12% are endemic mainly due to geographical isolation and unique climatic conditions. However, researchers have yet to extensively investigate the ecology, phenology, as well as the evolutionary, genetics, and conservation status of Ethiopian vegetations at community and species level over space and time. This lack of research is a barrier to achieving the goal of zero global plant extinctions. Taxa extinction risk assessment has not been extensively carried out for majority of Ethiopian species. Detailed research is needed to explore how vegetation and species respond to rapidly growing environmental change. Currently, human-induced climate change and habitat fragmentation are severely threatening the country's biodiversity, and the consequences of these effects have not been studied at large. Furthermore, we still lack scientific evidence on how micro- and macro-ecological and evolutionary processes have been shaping vegetation structures in this climatically, topographically, and geologically diverse country. These gaps in our knowledge represent an opportunity for ecologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, conservation biologists, and other experts to investigate the biodiversity status and the complex ecological processes involved in structuring vegetation dynamics so as to help take effective conservation actions.

Key words: Elevation, Biodiversity, Climate, Ethiopia, Vegetation types, Topography