Mobility in semi-arid lands is essential to wildlife and herders alike to gain access to spatially and temporally variable key resources. On the Laikipia Plateau, as in many other East African semi-arid lands, decreases in pastoralists’ seasonal grazing access have increasingly produced constraints to herding practices. Herder adaptations to these constraints are thought to produce large changes in landscape processes, but how these changes relate to recent shrub and succulent encroachment, reduction of perennial grasses and lianas, and local extirpation of a canopy species is not well understood. Explicitly considering how herder mobility and vegetation are interrelated, and using an interdisciplinary approach, our research focuses on recent changes in livelihoods and interrelated ecological dynamics. We used household survey and interview data to model species-specific livestock pressure and analyze the drivers of changes in herding practices. We used Landsat imagery to analyze change in landcover along gradients of livestock pressure under conditions of varying soils, topography, and rainfall. Current field-based, fine-scale plant community composition was also compared to livestock and environmental gradients.
Analysis of herding ranges reveals clear patterns of land use changes in the recent past, including reduced use of more distant forage resource areas. Preliminary analysis indicates that there is a strong relationship between plant community composition gradients, land-cover change, and novel domesticated herbivore pressure. The role of novel herbivore pressure is being explored and analyzed as situated in a complex social landscape where changes in access, markets, and politics at different spatial scales have impacted herding practices. We draw from alternative stable-state theory and consider the role of this novel herbivore pressure in vegetation state transitions. Potential future outcomes of this research include an improved understanding of the dynamics of semi-arid ecosystems, an increased understanding of processes that directly impact plant diversity, and a more nuanced understanding of the interaction of ecological and livelihood factors. In future research, we will solicit local community members to review the results, and engage in direct dialogue with non-governmental organizations in hopes of collaboratively developing a nuanced understanding of ecological changes, livelihood changes, and practical strategies for evaluating natural resource management regimes.