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Short Term Dynamics in Changing Environments:
A Geospatial Analysis of Seasonal Forest Response and
Extractive Resource Entitlements at Mt. Kasigau, Kenya

Welcome to the project website for the research project “Short Term Dynamics in Changing Environments: A Geospatial Analysis of Seasonal Forest Response and Extractive Resource Entitlements at Mt. Kasigau, Kenya directed by John K. Maingi and Kim Medley in the Department of Geography at Miami University, Ohio. The site provides background to the study area at Mt. Kasigau, a synthesis of our ongoing research and its findings, a description of the key participants, and a listing of project outcomes and available resources.   The project (2011-2014) received funding from the National Science Foundation (GSS 1061407), and is being conducted in collaboration with students and colleagues at Miami University and in Kenya.

PROJECT ABSTRACT

Inter- and intra-annual variations in rainfall are dominant environmental parameters influencing tropical seasonal forests, and the adaptive behaviors of local residents who rely on these resources for their livelihoods. This study builds from ecological and ethnobotanical research at Mt. Kasigau, Southeastern Kenya, where there is a steep gradient in seasonal forest change from deciduous Acacia-Commiphora bushland, through mixed montane woodlands, and to evergreen forest. The overall research thesis is that local, short-term analyses of biophysical changes in plant communities across this ecologically complex landscape should provide a sensitive indicator of livelihood conditions that correspond with dynamic changes in human-resource adaptive capacities. The study focuses on the extraction of woody plant products as one important resource entitlement and relates use practices with ecological patterns of diversity in vegetation types and biophysical dynamics under three project objectives to: (1) measure spatio-temporal dynamics in biophysical conditions; (2) investigate spatio-temporal relationships between environmental conditions, vegetative response, and resource extractive activities; and (3) integrate geo-spatial measures and local interpretations of short-term to long-term ecological trends and livelihood responses to those trends The research applies ecological field data and remote sensing analyses to fine-scale mapping of plant community types and patterns of diversity across the montane landscape. By intensively collecting spatially-explicit data on forest cover, biophysical parameters, and woody plant extraction practices, the study tests how different forest types respond to short-term dynamics in moisture conditions, gains quantitative and qualitative measures on how resource-use practices change in relation to short-term environmental change, and jointly examines with local residents how extractive activities potentially influence forest resources over the long term. Projected research outcomes contribute to applied conservation science by better understanding relationships between short-term ecological dynamics in tropical seasonal forests and the adaptive capacities of local populations in vulnerable landscapes.

Short-term variations in when the rains will come, how much rain will come, and where the rains will fall are only predicted to be more unpredictable under projections for global climate change in semi-arid East Africa. As applied conservation research, this study examines the vulnerability of forest resources and human livelihoods under ‘short-term’ climate change scenarios, combines remote sensing and local knowledge when interpreting resource patterns and change, and recognizes the need to better understand and act on the adaptive capacities of local populations. The study promotes collaborative learning opportunities between U.S. and Kenyan students, and with local residents at Mt. Kasigau, Kenya.