The biological and socio-economic consequences of alternative land management practices in central Kenya: A conceptual framework and early results
Considerable effort has been devoted to the development of sustainable management plans that allow the extraction and development of commodities while maintaining the ability of ecosystems to provide critical services. In theory, such sustainable management would unite anthropocentric goals of increased human health and standards of living with ecocentric goals of preserved ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. Despite great interest in the sustainable management of ecosystems to foster the well-being of both humans and natural systems, few projects have succeeded in advancing both objectives. In Africa, the savannas that cover more than half of the continent are important habitats for both wildlife and humans. The productivity that characterizes these ecosystems makes them prime grazing land for livestock as well as for wildlife, setting the stage for conflicts between the needs of humans and those of wildlife.
The Laikipia District in Kenya is a critical region for wildlife conservation. In Laikipia, as in many other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, a wide range of stakeholders (ranchers, conservancy managers, indigenous communities) use the land in diverse ways (livestock production, agriculture, ecotourism, conservation), potentially putting priorities such as wildlife conservation and livestock production directly at odds. Due to the multitude of stakeholders and land-uses, this region offers an opportunity to integrate fundamental biological questions with social assessments, focusing on ecosystem services as the key links in this complex socio-ecological system. Here we describe some features of this East African savanna ecosystem that could provide an example of the co-optimization of anthropocentric and ecocentric ecosystem management objectives. We demonstrate that managed livestock grazing can enhance forage quality for large native herbivores, and that when treated with acaricides, livestock can become ecological traps for ticks, protecting wildlife and human health. Our understanding of such complex linkages has required an interdisciplinary approach incorporating the fields of ecology, ecosystem services, and environmental economics. The success of this effort depends on strong communication and a commitment to understanding both facets of this socio-ecological system.