Conservation science for common ground: developing the necessary tools to manage livestock grazing pressure in Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Vial, Flavie (2010) Conservation science for common ground: developing the necessary tools to manage livestock grazing pressure in Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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One of the greatest proximate threats facing biodiversity is habitat change as a result of the combined effects of agricultural development and livestock grazing. Extensive livestock systems are increasingly competing with wildlife for access to land and natural resources in African rangelands. Ethiopia has the highest numbers of livestock in Africa with most livestock production taking place in highland systems. The Bale Mountains contain the largest extent of afroalpine habitat in Africa and are the most important conservation area in Ethiopia as one of thirty-four Conservation International Biodiversity Hotspots. The Bale Mountains National Park was established forty years ago to protect the endemic, and rodent-specialist Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) and the afroalpine habitats upon which they depend.
I use a 21 year time-series of livestock counts in the park to detect changes in the Oromo traditional livestock production system or godantu. I show that a seasonal transhumant livestock production regime, akin to godantu, only appears to persist in the Web valley today and I also find some evidence that the type of livestock is changing with smaller stock, such as sheep and goats, being more frequently kept. Despite reportedly growing numbers of households in the Web valley, I do not detect an overall increase in livestock numbers, suggesting that the area may have reached its carrying capacity in terms of livestock. In contrast, the number of livestock on the Sanetti Plateau increased over the monitoring period, including the remote and inhospitable western section of the plateau. Furthermore, I detect an increase in the risk of contact and disease transmission between Ethiopian wolves and free-roaming dogs in wolf optimal habitats. I subsequently estimate, through the use of transects, the densities of livestock in the Web valley, Morebawa and Sanetti and calculate the ratio of observed to maximum sustainable livestock density (based on rainfall and vegetation productivity). The conservative results suggest that the Web valley and Morebawa are overstocked given the rangeland predicted productivity for those areas, and that the problem of overstocking is at its worst during the dry season.
I then establish critical relationships between vegetation conditions, livestock grazing pressure and rodent populations (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus, Lophuromys melanonyx and Arvicanthis blicki) in the afroalpine, under both natural and controlled experimental conditions. Rodent biomass declines as the livestock index increases along a natural grazing gradient, but rodents‟ body condition, use of the habitat or breeding ecology and most vegetation variables measured do not significantly vary across the livestock grazing gradient. Rodent populations do respond to the experimental removal of livestock inside exclosures, although this response is site and species-specific, and I find some evidence that these responses are concurrent with changes in the vegetation. Grazed plots have higher plant species richness and diversity compared to the exclosure sites which harbour reduced bareground cover and taller vegetation. Differences among rodent species in their responses to grazing may be mediated by interaction between the direct effects of grazing on habitat quality and species-specific habitat requirements, although the specific mechanism of this interaction could not be tested. Livestock may negatively affect rodents by increasing their predation risk (through removing vegetation cover), by reducing the soil suitability for maintaining burrow systems (through trampling) or, less likely, by competing for food resources.
A series of simple dynamic food chain models are developed to explore the interactions between Ethiopian wolves, rodents and vegetation and how they may be affected by increasing levels of livestock grazing. I also explore how predictions made about these trophic dynamics are affected by the type of functional response linking the different levels. The models suggest that the pastures of the Web valley and Morebawa are likely to be incapable of maintaining wolves at current livestock densities, while the Sanetti plateau may be able to sustain only slight increases in livestock density before tipping into a trophic configuration unable to sustain wolves. This model is a first step in assessing the seriousness of conflict between pastoralists and wildlife in BMNP.
Resource selection functions are developed and validated for cattle and sheep/goats grazing in the Bale afroalpine in an attempt to understand some of the drivers behind the heterogeneous use of the landscape by livestock. Habitat use by livestock is focused on lower-lying pastures in the vicinity of water sources (rivers or mineral springs). Only cattle strongly select for/against particular vegetation types. The probability of habitat use is also linked to the distance from the nearest villages. The models developed highlight a strong association between livestock use and rodent biomass in Morebawa and Eastern Sanetti, suggesting that livestock grazing poses a threat to Ethiopian wolves‟ persistence in marginal habitats in which rodent availability is already limited. Furthermore, the concentration of livestock around water sources has serious implications for the degradation of the park‟s hydrological system and the livelihoods and food security of the millions of people living in the dependent lowlands. Integrating research and practice is a fundamental challenge for conservation. I discuss how the methodological tools developed and the insights gained into the dynamics of the afroalpine system can contribute to the management of livestock grazing pressure in Bale Mountains National Park and highlight gaps in the knowledge of the afroalpine ecosystem where more research is needed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Livestock grazing environmental impact, rangeland ecology, afroalpine, Ethiopian wolves, rodents
Subjects: S Agriculture > SF Animal culture
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Haydon, Prof. Daniel and Macdonald, Prof. David
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Dr Flavie Vial
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2012
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:49

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