It’s hard to miss Mount Lico, a relatively isolated cliff jutting out 700 meters (nearly 2,300 feet) above the plains of northern Mozambique.
Yet for hundreds of years, people were unaware that inside the ancient volcano lay a hidden rainforest, protected by the volcano’s high walls.
Discovered by conservation biologist Julian Bayliss in 2012, the untouched biosphere is a gift for scientists. The only disturbances it has experienced over centuries are natural, such as droughts, as opposed to man-made.
And so it offers a benchmark that scientists can use to compare the full effect of human interference on rainforests.
Now, for the first time, scientists have scaled the 125-meters up a near-vertical rock face to explore the undisturbed rainforest within.
Bayliss took five years to assemble a team that included biologists, botanists, lepidopterists, and other experts from Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The team also included rock climbers who trained the scientists for the expedition from May 10-24—an adventure that sounds straight out of a Jules Verne novel.
After only one expedition, scientists have already found a new species of butterfly and a mouse species that has yet to be classified, and expect to find more previously undiscovered animals.
Because Mount Lico’s habitat is a rainforest, unique plants and animals have developed there, and can help us better understand both the past and future of the natural world.
The discovery is also noteworthy because it’s the second undisturbed rainforest that scientists have found in Mozambique thanks to Google Earth—offering an example of how big data can lead to new discoveries in long-overlooked habitats.
In 2005, Bayliss noticed Mount Mabu, a 1,700 meters (more than 5,500 feet) mountain range that appears in the middle of a savannah.
Bayliss spotted Mount Mabu while searching the earth’s surface for undisturbed rainforests. The mountain range looked similar to one he was already studying in neighboring Malawi, but scientists had never documented it.
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