Biodiversity conservation is an important area of concern for IITA. IITA has been taking care of its rich biodiversity since the institute was established in the late 60s, starting with the secondary rainforest in its headquarters in Ibadan with many indigenous trees.
The IITA campus is a rich center of biodiversity and is one of the few remaining forest reserves in Nigeria where valuable and rare indigenous trees, such as the Iroko (Milicia excelsa), are safe from poachers. Today there is only one specimen of Parkia bicolor in southwestern Nigeria; this one tree is on the IITA campus.
The IITA secondary forest covers 350 hectares and has many useful plant species including herbs, medicinal plants, fiber-producing plants, and fruit and timber trees.
The IITA forest has four layers: a discontinuous emergent canopy dominated by Iroko, Celtis zenkeri, Terminalia superb, and Antiaris Africana; a tree canopy made up of Blighia sapida, young Ceiba pentandra, Entandrophragma angolense, and Ricinodendron heudelotii as the more frequent woody plants. The shrub layer is composed mainly of Newbouldia laevis, and Baphia nitida with seedlings and saplings of typical canopy emergents such as Mammea africana. The herb layer is highly diverse containing members of the family Orchdaceae and some Poaceae and Chromolina sp. in the more open areas.
The IITA forest provides a good habitat for a great number of different insects and birds. It is one of the Birdlife International Important Bird Areas (IBA) with 350 species, including the Ibadan Malimbe, Malimbus ibadanensis, which is endemic to this region. There are 149 confirmed butterfly species, although the actual number could fall between 250 and 400.
There is also a variety of wildlife within the forest including cane rat or grass-cutter, duiker, mongoose, potto, tree hyrax, civet, and the giant Gambian rat. Others are the bush-tailed porcupine, squirrels, and small antelopes. Amphibians, lizards, and snakes are also common but have not been studied or documented. However, there is a large population of straw-colored fruit bats.
Drabo Gbo, Benin
The Drabo Gbo forest is a 14-hectare rehabilitated forest in the Republic of Benin that is rich in biodiversity. Four forests within the Drabo Gbo forest are sacred and the resource hosts diverse species of butterflies, birds, endangered species of monkeys, trees, and snakes, among others.
IITA has taken over the rehabilitated forest of Drabo Gbo as a field research station linked to the Cotonou Biodiversity Center.