SABONET Nyika Expedition

This expedition took place from 22 March to 10 April 2000, and was successfully completed by more than twenty botanists from the southern and eastern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The Nyika is the largest montane complex in south-central Africa, and consists of rolling grasslands, dambos, forest patches, and miombo woodlands on the plateau escarpment. The expedition focussed on the following areas: the Zambian Nyika National Park, Chosi, Mwanda and Nganda Mountains, Chisanga Falls, Fingira Rock, Dembo, Kaulime and Wovwe Rivers, Nthakati Peak, Chelinda Bridge area, Mpopoti, Sangule Kopje, Mbuzinandi, Vitinthiza Hill, Jalawe/Domwe area, miombo woodlands in the southwestern part of the Nyika, as well as the Juniper Forest area. Although some areas have been well collected by previous botanists, such as in the Chelinda Bridge and Nganda areas, we attempted as far as possible to target areas on the Nyika that had not been well collected previously. Despite our intensive botanical collecting efforts over a period of two weeks, vast areas of the Nyika remain undercollected, especially in the more inaccessible northeastern and eastern areas of the Nyika National Park.

Altogether 3,343 plant numbers were collected during the expedition. Where possible, four to five duplicates of each specimen were collected. The intention is that the duplicates will be distributed to the following regional southern African herbaria: National Herbarium, Malawi (MAL), University of Zambia Herbarium, Zambia (UZL), National Herbarium, Zimbabwe (SRGH), National Herbarium, South Africa (PRE), and INIA Herbarium, Mozambique (LMA).

Before the expedition, a small group of southern African botanists had worked hard to prepare a preliminary plant checklist for the Nyika as a working document during the expedition, as well as species profiles on Nyika’s endemic plants. In addition, published illustrations of some of the plants that were known to occur on the Nyika were compiled as a separate working document. Previous estimates of the number of plant taxa found on the Nyika have varied between 1,200 (Seyani, Chikuni & Kamundi 1991) and 1,420 (Patel, Brummitt, Overton & Overton 2000) plant taxa. Our preliminary estimates are significantly higher than this, probably closer to 1,800–1,900 plant taxa, although the actual figure is probably over 2,000. Several new distribution records were made for many Nyika plant taxa, including some of the strict Nyika endemic plants, such as Setaria grandis (Poaceae) and Oxalis chapmaniae (Oxalidaceae).

The following goals have been set and will be achieved, either fully or partially, as a result of the expedition:

Document and list flora collected from previously under-collected areas/vegetation types (such as the herbaceous flora in the montane grasslands) on the Nyika Plateau.

Determine the distribution of selected known endemic and threatened plant species on the Nyika Plateau (selected plant taxa determined largely from the literature).

Produce an illustrated field guide/annotated checklist to the plants of the Nyika National Park/Plateau. (A single line drawing of each genus represented in the local flora will be included.) The publication will also include bibliographic citations, synonyms, distribution and altitude information, habit, and specimen citations. It is hoped that this publication will provide useful information to National Parks officials on both the Malawian and Zambian sides of the Nyika and assist them in their management of the Nyika flora.

Field experience for staff employed in regional herbaria.

On-site training in the following: plant pressing and collecting; use of GPS; team management; expedition planning and implementation; identification of selected plant groups; and mentoring by plant specialists.

Link with existing initiatives relating to botanical diversity on the Nyika Plateau so as to complement, and not duplicate, efforts (especially with regard to the annual Overton expeditions to the Nyika).

Improve plant collections from the Nyika Plateau represented in the Malawian and Zambian herbaria.

Training for herbarium workers in report writing.

Recommendations adopted by the relevant conservation agency and added to the existing management plans.

Networking between regional botanists.