A new report highlights the work of Malawi’s Forestry Research Institute in protecting the Widdringtonia whytei tree, which is the only natural home of the species. Illegal logging has destroyed the trees’ natural seed source, making it harder for them to propagate. Another threat is a fungus known as Karomia gigas, which perishes the tree’s immature fruit. Despite the numerous challenges, the project is now helping local people to earn a living from tree cultivation.
Illegal logging removes natural seed source
Illegal logging is destroying the natural seed source of the Widdringtonia whytei tree in Malawi. This tree is a critically endangered species and the natural habitat for this species is only 845 ha. With continued logging, the species could experience a decline of more than 80%.
Widdringtonia whytei is closely related species found in southern Africa and Zimbabwe. It is commonly known as Mulanje cedarwood. Its bark is very resistant to fire and regenerates from seed. It can be found in hollow areas of granite rock faces. Illegal logging destroys the tree’s natural seed source and destroys the habitat.
Reintroduction of Mulanje cypress in Cape Town
The Mulanje cypress is an endangered species of cypress native to southern Africa and the southern parts of Africa. It reproduces through seed and is highly sought-after for its wood, which is used for carpentry. Its sap is also used as a long-lasting dye, and has medicinal properties. The tree is used extensively throughout Mozambique and is often imported to Kenya.
Karomia gigas fungus destroys immature fruit
The Karomia gigas tree, which has large oval leaves and papery fruit, was thought to be extinct until the 1980s. But in 2011 botanists in Dar es Salaam discovered six remaining trees. Now they are fighting the fungus and trying to save the seeds. The forest service agency in Tanzania is trying to create seed-propagation sites where this species can grow.
The fungus, called Karomia gigas, is perishing the trees’ seeds. Scientists believe that this fungus is depleting the trees’ seeds. They have found that if two trees flower at the same time, they are likely to cross-pollinate. However, not all trees are able to cross-pollinate with each other. In fact, some trees have only one form.
Need for more research on threats to trees
The Widdringtonia whytei tree is an endangered species in Malawi. Its habitat is estimated at only 845 hectares, but if illegal logging continues, the species is likely to decline by 80 percent by 2030. The IUCN classifies it as Critically Endangered.
The tree’s germination and viability depend on temperature. In one study, researchers measured seed viability and germination in three different temperature regimes. They found that seeds incubated at constant temperatures of 20 degC showed the greatest germination and viability. In contrast, seeds incubated at lower temperatures failed to germinate.
Scientists are also concerned about climate change. They warn that climate change will have severe consequences for many tree species and that the species may not survive in its current ranges. They say this is “a crisis of monumental proportions.” But the reality is that more trees are threatened than there are restoration projects, and climate change is altering ecosystems fundamentally.
Provided by Antonio Westley
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