Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Traditional ranching practices enhance African savanna

Date:
May 1, 2013
Source:
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Summary:
That human land use destroys natural ecosystems is an oft-cited assumption in conservation, but ecologists have discovered that instead, traditional ranching techniques in the African savanna enhance the local abundance of wild, native animals. These results offer a new perspective on the roles humans play in natural systems, and inform ongoing discussions about land management and biodiversity conservation.

A small glade, surrounded by trees and being enjoyed by a group of giraffes.
Credit: Robert Pringle

That human land use destroys natural ecosystems is an oft-cited assumption in conservation, but ecologists have discovered that instead, traditional ranching techniques in the African savanna enhance the local abundance of wild, native animals. These results offer a new perspective on the roles humans play in natural systems, and inform ongoing discussions about land management and biodiversity conservation.

For thousands of years, pastoralists in East African savannas have penned their cattle overnight in brush-walled corrals, called bomas. Bomas remain in use for about a year, resulting in tons of manure that fertilizes these small areas. After abandonment, a lush carpet of grass springs up and these fertile "glades" -- sometimes as large as a football field -- remain visibly distinct from the surrounding savanna for over a century.

The team of ecologists, based at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya, found that trees close to the edges of glades grew faster and were generally larger than trees elsewhere in the savanna. They also found more insects and, the particular focus of the study, higher densities of a native species of gecko, Lygodactylus keniensis.

"The effect of these glades is clear," said Colin Donihue, the Yale University doctoral student who led the research, which is described in Ecology's April issue. "Our findings are particularly exciting given how long glades persist in the savanna. This means that even decades after the pastoralists move on, they leave fertile footprints across the landscape that significantly alter the dynamics of the entire ecosystem." Previous research has shown that glades are the preferred grazing sites of many large African mammals. Donihue et al.'s research uniquely demonstrates that the effects of glades cascade to a far broader swath of the savanna's plant and animal inhabitants.

The researchers also measured the interacting effects of nearby glades. Unexpectedly, the area between two close glades had some of the lowest gecko lizard densities and tree growth rates of the entire study. "This result was a surprise to us," Donihue said, "and has important management implications as we think about integrating knowledge from agrarian cultures and traditions into modern ranching practice."

The surprising result may be due to cattle overuse of the area between an established boma and nearby glade. Further experiments are currently underway at the research center to explore this pattern and determine optimal distances between bomas.

It is important to note that over-grazing can have myriad detrimental impacts on ecosystems. This project simply demonstrates that traditional corralling techniques in Kenya leave a landscape-scale legacy that can bolster local abundances of native plants and animals.

"With human populations booming, we must look beyond the 'leave no trace' conservation ethic," said Donihue. "We must strive to find ways that our impacts on ecosystems can work in concert with natural processes. Our study suggests that traditional practices, honed over millennia, offer insightful lessons on how to do it."

Other authors on the paper include: Robert Pringle Ph.D. (Princeton University), Lauren Porensky Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno), Johannes Foufopoulos Ph.D. (University of Michigan), Corinna Riginos Ph.D. (Princeton University).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Colin M. Donihue, Lauren M. Porensky, Johannes Foufopoulos, Corinna Riginos, Robert M. Pringle. Glade cascades: indirect legacy effects of pastoralism enhance the abundance and spatial structuring of arboreal fauna. Ecology, 2013; 94 (4): 827 DOI: 10.1890/12-0856.1

Cite This Page:

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "Traditional ranching practices enhance African savanna." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501132047.htm>.
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. (2013, May 1). Traditional ranching practices enhance African savanna. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501132047.htm
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "Traditional ranching practices enhance African savanna." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501132047.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins