Congo Basin Species Diversification
The Congo Basin comprises 3.7 million square kilometers of largely unexplored, undisturbed tropical rainforest in Central Africa. This area includes all or part of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia. However, this area is vastly underrepresented in the biological literature, particularly for herpetofauna. Only ~8% of all phylogeographic studies ever conducted involved the African continent, and only ~10% of those included reptiles and amphibians. For a number of reasons (political, security, logistic), this percentage is lower still in Central Africa.
Several important climatic and geographic features likely play roles in generating biological diversity in Central Africa. Paleoecological evidence supports the idea of rainforest refugia in Cameroon, Gabon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. These areas would have remained forested during the Pleistocene aridification of sub-Saharan Africa and are likely to have been climatically stable for tens of thousands to millions of years. Large river systems, such as the Congo and Sanaga rivers, are known species boundaries in several vertebrates. Major volcanic mountain chains, the Cameroon Volcanic Line and the Albertine Rift, surround the Congo Basin and are some of the most species rich regions in continental Africa. As a part of her PhD research at KU, Katie is using a combination of ecological niche modeling and next generation sequencing to understand how geographic features and paleo-climatic processes combine to drive reptile diversification within the Congo Basin and surrounding mountain ranges.