Report on the observed climate, projected climate, and projected biodiversity changes for Virunga National Park, DRC under differing levels of warming

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Critically important for the endangered Mountain Gorilla, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, is among the top 46% of all non-marine protected areas, globally. Even as a park with varying topography, Virunga appears to be vulnerable to climate change, especially once temperatures exceed 2°C warming. Business as usual conservation, even taking into account changes in the likelihood of extreme events, will not be adequate except in the highest areas of the park. Additional adaptation will be needed to protect the existing species there. Averaged over the entire area, with 4°C warming (global, above pre-industrial), the area is projected to remain climatically suitable for 51.9% of its terrestrial biodiversity (fungi, plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates), with 10.8% of its area remaining an overall refugia (remaining climatically suitable for >75% of the species) for biodiversity. If warming levels were held to 2°C, only 22.6% of the area would remain a climatic refugia and the area would remain climatically suitable for 66.8% of its terrestrial biodiversity.

Between 1961-1990 and 1991-2020 the average monthly temperature has increased by 0.4° – 0.8°C. With warming levels of 1.5°C the new average monthly temperature is equivalent to that only seen 1 in 20 years in 1961-1990 for all months. Seven months have seen declines in precipitation (especially April), and the rest wetter, especially January and October. Models project that April, May, July and September will become drier and the rest increase or not change. The number of months with severe drought has more than doubled between 1961-1990 and 1986-2015.

Biodiversity adaptation options generally only allow for business-as-usual conservation to 4.0°C in the Rwenzori and Virunga Mountain areas of the park, taking into account changes in extreme events (especially heat and severe drought). These include the areas where Mountain Gorillas are located. At temperatures above 2.0°C, much of the rest of the park will require increasing levels of adaptation.

The human population around the park is projected to increase substantially and this will likely have impacts on the park as a whole and needs to be carefully monitored. Between 1992 and 2020 areas in the park have already been converted into agricultural land.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages53
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2024

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