Summary of Nigerian Vegetation

The entity called 'Nigeria'

pixabay cc0

Nigeria, popularly referred to as 'the giant of Africa' is a country located in the Western side of the African continent, South of Sahara, longitudes 30E and 150E and latitudes 40N and 140N respectively. It is bothered in the Western side by Republic of Benin, by Chad and Cameroon in the Eastern side, by Niger republic in the Northern side and the Coast of Gulf of Guinea in the South.

One would think being 'Giant of Africa' means Nigeria has the largest landmass in the continent but this is far from being so. The country actually ranks 14th in Africa with a total landmass of 923,768 km2. The country was nomenclatured as a result of her strong economy coupled with her relative large human population density. Currently, the country is the most populous African country with close to 200 million individuals. The total water area of the country stands around 13,000 km2.

Vegetation/Plant diversity in Nigeria

For those that might be wondering, biodiversity generally refers to the varieties of plant and animal life found in a particular place which tend to play significant role in the well-being and overall existence of man and his environment.

There is absolutely no doubt that Nigeria is blessed with abundant plant and animal diversity. This is in part due to the complex topography as well as wide variety of habitats that serve to house a lot of plant and animal species. Starting from the Southern part of the country and moving up North, the vegetation varies greatly. The country lies within the tropical zones and characterized by tropical climate.

There are two major vegetation zones within the country, these include;
* The forest vegetation zones
* The savannah vegetation zones

The forest vegetation has been defined in a variety of ways but to a layman, it is simply a vegetation dominated by trees with more or less touching crowns and little or no grass or herbaceous ground cover. On the other hand, savannah vegetations are those characterized by short, well spersed woody species with sufficient grass covers.

Other minor vegetation zones include the ones around montane area such as found in Obudu cattle ranch and gallery forests.

Vegetation map of Nigeria. Public Domain, Link

The forest vegetation also varies with water and soil type being the major determinants for the variation. Hence, the vegetation of the down South is characterized mainly by Mangrove and freshwater Swamp forests. The mangrove swamp forest extend around the coastal region of the Niger Delta and is composed majorly of mangrove species such as the red and white mangrove plants; *Rhizophora racemosa*, *R. harrisonii*, *R. mangle* and plants species majorly in the Combretaceae and Avicenniaceae family. All the plant species that grow in this zone are both water and salt tolerant.

The Niger Delta region has been touted as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots with critical ecological roles such as preservation of seascape biodiversity, housing some important animal species as well as functioning as a carbon emmision sinks. However, the region is greatly threatened by oil mining activities of some multinational oil companies around the area.

a typical mangrove swamp By Leon petrosyan - CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Moving a bit further up the vegetation belt, the zone is characterized by freshwater swamp forest. The swamp formed majorly around lakes and rivers with fluctuation in the water level of the swamp brought about by the seasonality of the rain/precipitation. Perhaps I forgot to indicate that the climate of the country is characterized by two distinct seasons - the rainy season and the dry season. During the rainy season, the water level in the freshwater swamps rises and falls during the dry season. Hence, only water tolerant and salt intolerant plant species grow in this zone.

The most common plant species that is characteristic of this zone is the raffia palms (*Raphia species*) which is also usually cultivated around the region due to its economic benefits. Other species of plants common to the zone include *Alstonia spp.*, *Cleistophollis patens*, *Lophira alata* and *Lonchocarpus griffonianus*. Species of plants like *Nymphaea lotus*, *Pistia striatiotes* and *Vosia cuspidata* are usually found floating on various water bodies found around the region.

typical freshwater swamp forest By Toriqul Islam -CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Next in line from South towards North of Nigeria is the tropical rainforest vegetation zone. This zone is charcterized by well drained soils with different layers of vegetation cover. The first layer is made up of tall trees which are mostly of economic importance, usually up to about 40 m in height and generally referred to as the emergent layer. The next layer is composed of shorter tree species with more less touching crowns which serve as a canopy and most times prevent sunlight from reaching the forest's floor. The common tree species found in this region include *Ceiba pentadra*, *Terminalia species*, *Triplochyton scleroxylon*, *Picnanthus angolensis*, *Gmelina arborea*, *Adansonia digitata*, *Bombax buonoposense*, *Milicia excelsa* and a host of other economically important timber species.

a typical rainforest vegetation [flickr](

Below the first two layers of the tropical rainforest is an understorey layers of short trees, about 5-10 m in height and usually flanked by woody climbers and epiphytic plant species. Most rainforest vegetations usually lack a ground cover of herbs and grassses, except in few cases.

Further upnorth Nigeria are series of savannah vegetations in form of derived savannah, guinea savannah (northern and southern), sudan savannah and sahel savannah which happens to be the characteristic vegetation in the extreme Northern part of the country. The savannahs differ in the amount of rainfall received and amount of grass cover present in the vegetation. Variations also exist in terms of species composition, richness and diversity. Sahel savannah happens to be the dryest of the savannahs.

a typical savannah vegetation. Uploaded by ProfessorX, Public Domain, Link

Animal diversity

Nigeria is not only culturally diverse but also have a wide varieties of plants and animal species to complement its diversity. The country has several indigenous species of animals as well exotic species. The different vegetation zones provide a wide varieties of habitats for animals of different levels of biological complexity to thrive. The mangrove swamp, the freshwater swamp and the tropical rainforest vegetation are home to many reptiles, other aquatic organisms as well as several terestrial vertebrates and invertebrates.

By see repected photo profiles - Public Domain, Link

Plant and flesh eating species of animals dominates the savannah grasslands of the country, although some of these animals have either gone into extinction or already facing the prospect of it. Animals species such as elephants, warthogs, chivets, jackals, wild dogs and those of cat's family such as lions, cheetahs, leopards etc. have been recorded in these vegetation zones. Water dwelling mammals such as hippopotamus and crocodiles have also been recorded in parts of these vegetations, especially in areas where rivers run through the grasslands.

Overall, the country has been opined to have approximately two hundred and ninety (290) species of mammals and about nine hundred and fourty (940) species of birds along with inumerable species of other classes of animals.

The challenge within and ahead

Just as it is a worldwide problem, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources is suffering a great deal in the country. The Nigerian forest cover has been significantly reduced due to human activities such as overlogging, selective logging, agricultural activities, hunting, burning, conversion to non-forested use and a host of other activities. These reduction in forest cover has led to loss of wide varieties of habitats that serve to house important animal species.

Overall, both plant and animal diversity has been reduced greatly by direct or indirect human activities. According the report of International Union of Conservation of Nature, Nigeria has about 309 plant and animal species on the red list, that is the list of endangered species. About 26 species of mammal, 19 species of bird, 8 species of reptiles, 13 amphibians, 60 species of fishes, 15 Invertebrates and a whooping sum of 168 species of plants have been enlisted as been on the verge of extinction.

A host of factors have been identified as being responsible for the trend being witnessed in the area of biodiversity richness. These include high rate of population growth, poverty, constraints in policy and legislation formulation, poor or inadequate land use planning,socio-cultural issues and of course, the well publicised effects of climate change.

The efforts so far

A lot of efforts have been and still being put in place to stem the tide the threats to our biodiversity. Some of the efforts include establisment of protected forest areas, establishment of national parks, formulation of policies guiding land use, re-afforestation and a host of others. The result of few of the efforts is the establishment of Lekki Conservation Center under the auspices of Nigerian Conservation Foundation in Lekki, Lagos.

Thank you all for reading.



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