The spectacular diversity of landscapes and biota in Africa is not matched by the human and financial resources needed to protect and manage this heritage. It is therefore essential that available skills and funds be directed to sites of the highest conservation priority. An objective system of assessing priorities in relation to clear and unambiguous goals is needed. Within the context of the goals of the World Conservation Strategy, the specific objective of in situ biodiversity conservation in Africa might take the following form:
To establish a minimum set of protected areas that provides for the preservation of the full range of African ecosystems and their biota, including marine and coastal species and systems.
Some of the steps to be taken to reach this objective include:
the development of a hierarchical series of biotic classification systems (from continental to regional to local scales);
the assessment of the current level of protection given to each element of these classifications;
the identification of gaps in the protected area network within a ranked listing of priorities; and
the mobilization of the funds and manpower needed to incorporate these areas within the network.
These needs will now be examined in the light of African examples.
The first need in any review of biotic resources is information on the types, numbers, and distribution of the plants and animals to be found in the area under study. Such information is best synthesized within major vegetation and plant-geographic units. UNESCO has recently published a comprehensive review of the vegetation of Africa (White, 1983) and a detailed map at a scale of 1:5 million, which is of tremendous value in assessing the protected area cover of biota at a continental scale. Numerous regional and national vegetation classifications and maps that are also available in other publications permit analyses at finer resolution. But the complexity of biotic communities and the distribution of plants and animals require that much additional information be made available. The small, but species-rich communities of lakes, wetlands, rivers, estuaries, coastal dunes and mangroves, inselbergs, and escarpments, and many other specialized habitats are seldom included at the scale of even national vegetation maps. Conservation plans that ignore these communities will miss much of a region’s biotic richness (Clarke and Bell, 1986).
A more complex problem relates to endemism. Centers of endemism are seldom reflected in distinctive and mappable vegetation types, yet they are of considerable conservation interest. Of greater concern is the fact that centers of endemism can