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Diplolophium africanum: A common but little-known plant on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, Kenya

By Tom Butynski, Yvonne de Jong, Mike Roberts, and Julius Mathiu, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme

One of most widespread, common, distinctive, and little-known plants on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, central Kenya, is Diplolophium africanum, a member of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae = Umbelliforae). This is the only Diplolophium species in the Kenya uplands. Species in this family are aromatic, have hollow or pithy stems, and an umbel inflorescence which, in D. africanum, is ca. 35 mm in diameter. The more well-known plants in the Apiaceae include celery, parsley, parsnip, anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, and fennel. Upon seeing D. africanum, one is reminded of dill or fennel.

Diplolophium africanum plants in flower in typical habitat on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Diplolophium africanum plants in flower in typical habitat on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Unlike the above-listed relatives, D. africanum is not edible to humans nor, it seems, to any vertebrates except, perhaps donkeys (which are rumoured to eat small amounts). On Lolldaiga, sheep, cattle, and wild large herbivores graze around D. africanum, leaving the plant untouched…or nearly so. As such, this 2-3 m high plant becomes particularly dominant and noticeable as the long-dry season advances and as it changes colour from green to bright yellow.

Although D. africanum is wide-spread in Africa, and locally abundant in Kenya in upland grassland, wooded grassland, and woodland edges, it remains poorly-known—so poorly-known that it does not have an English common name. The Maa name for this plant is ‘daiga’ (or ‘daika’). It is, apparently, this species that led the Masai to give the name ‘Lolldaiga’ to these hills. What is known is that the leaf oil holds more than 24 compounds, some with insecticidal, antimicrobial, antifungal, and/or antiradical activities. Still, on Lolldaiga, the larvae of at least a few species of moth occur on D. africanum, and the adults and larvae of a large carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta and a small carpenter bee Ceratina sp. (identifications by Dr. Dino Martins) inhabit the dry stem.

Flowering Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Flowering Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Xylocopa hottentotta bore holes into dry D. africanum stems to construct nests. Each nest has a single entrance. Species within the genus Xylocopa are solitary and do not produce honey. Nonetheless, they are important pollinators of many plants, including crops.

All Xylocopa spp. buzz loudly when their nest is disturbed. Thus, nests of X. hottentotta in D. africanum are readily located simply be hitting the plant sharply, but lightly, with a finger or stick.

In East Africa, Xylocopa spp., and other species of bees, are threatened by habitat degradation and loss as a result of agricultural activities, and by herbicides and insecticides (BioNET-EAFRINET keys.lucidcentral.org).

 There is an unidentified toxin in D. africanum; ingestion of large amounts of green leaf leads to shortness of breath (dyspnea), salivation, abdominal pain, staggering, and death in sheep, cattle and, perhaps, all mammals. Nonetheless, people in Ethiopia sniff the fresh, unprocessed, leaves to treat headache, and give the smashed leaves orally with water in an attempt to treat rabies.

Diplolophium africanum in flower on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Diplolophium africanum in flower on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Dry, post-flower, Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta at its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

On Lolldaiga, D. africanum is common over large areas that might otherwise produce food for livestock and wild vertebrates, particularly large mammals. A research priority on Lolldaiga is to study the ecology of D. africanum in order to understand its role in the Lolldaiga Hills ecosystem.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta exiting its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta exiting its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

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Two additions to the Laikipia Mammal List; desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) and Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii)

By Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme

Laikipia County, ca. 9,700 km², probably holds the highest diversity of larger mammal species of any region of its size in the world. Most of Laikipia County is covered by the Laikipia Plateau (ca. 1,600–2,400 m asl), an area composed of a mix of flat ground, undulating plains, rolling hills, steep hills, and scattered granitic inselbergs (or ’kopjes’).

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Günther’s dik-dik ‘frosted’ colourmorph on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, Kenya

By Yvonne de Jong and Tom Butynski, for the Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme, lolldaiga.com

Living in some of the hottest, driest and most thorny habitats of Africa, Günther’s dik-dik Madoqua guentheri occur over much of central and northern Kenya, northern Uganda, southeast South-Sudan, south and southeast Ethiopia, and most of Somalia. Laikipia’s smallest antelope (ca. 4.5 kg) occupies all of the bushlands of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch (1700-2200 m asl). Lolldaiga Hills Ranch lies at the southern limit of this antelope in central Kenya.

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African Palm Civet

Wondering what an African palm civet sounds like? We are posting bird and mammals sounds on wildsolutions.nl!

The African palm civet, or two-spotted palm civet, (Nandinia binotata) is a small (2 kg), nocturnal, arboreal, solitary predator, and the only species in the family Nandiniidae. The species is endemic to Africa.

The African palm civet occurs from Gambia across the Congo Basin to north Angola, south Kenya, northwest Mozambique and east Zimbabwe (you find the IUCN map here). The African palm civet has an olive-brown body with dark spots and a long bushy tail. This species lives in deciduous forests, rainforests, riverine forests and montane forests from sea level to 2500 m. The African palm civet is predominantly frugivorous but opportunistically feeds on small animals.

African palm civet or two-spotted palm civet (Nandinia binotata) at Ntem, Southern Cameroon. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski

African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) at Ntem, south Cameroon. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

The African palm civet can be locally abundant. Because it is nocturnal and arboreal, this species is not easy to see. Dominant males and neighbouring females communicate by loud ‘hou’ calls that can be heard up to 1 km away.

During primate surveys, members of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group at Oxford Brookes University (UK) recorded the calls of African palm civets, as well as of other mammals and birds. On this page we have posted the ‘hou’ call of the African palm civet. We will, gradually, add the calls of other species. Click here to listen to the African palm civet and other species!

 

 

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Giant Volcano and Its Baboons With Altitude!

By Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski Posted on the National Geographic Explorers Journal on July 8, 2015

Baboons (genus name: Papio; Kiswahili: nyani) are the most widespread of Africa’s monkeys. Occupying most of Africa south of the Sahara, baboons inhabit almost all types of vegetation. It is not difficult to find baboons on the beach of East Africa, in the Fynebos of South Africa, in semi-arid northern Kenya (see our earlier post: “Finding a New Monkey for East Africa”), in bamboo forest in Senegal, or in montane forest in Tanzania and Uganda.

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