Activities 2016

The first activity within the framework of the DAAD Quality Network Biodiversity Kenya took place in Kenya during March 2016, in Nairobi, at SEKU university close to Kitui, and in highly degraded riparian forests along two rivers south of Kitui. In the following there are provided some details on these activities (in chronological order), with textual contributions by Jan C. Habel, Mike Teucher and Rebecca Rogers. Photographs were kindly provided by participants of these activities.

7th March 2016: Kick-off day at the National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, with representatives of all institutions and stakeholders involved in this activity. The director of the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD Nairobi, Dr. Blumbach, as well as the director of Zoology Department of the National Museums of Kenya, Dr. Mwachala, kindly attended this opening meeting.

Gruppenfoto_NMK Kickoff

This kick-off day was initiated to inform other thematically related institutions and scientists about this new activity which will take place across Kenya during the next four years (2016-2019). Some of the participants represented institutions which might be potential future collaboration partners – like Nature Kenya and other NGOs, or the Kenyan Forest Service and other GOs. This project includes three regions with three different forest types, all of them being under extreme environmental stress: The riparian forests in the semi-arid Ukambani region in south-eastern Kenya, the Arabuko Sokoke coastal forest close to Kilifi, and the Taita Hills cloud forest at an elevation of 2000m. Three adjoining universities and one university college create the national network within Kenya, including the South Eastern Kenya University SEKU, Pwani University PU, and Taita Taveta University College TTUC; the international network will be completed by the Technical University Munich, Germany. The National Museums of Kenya represents an additional valuable partner, in particular for successful institutional networking and for effectual field work. The following five working packages will shape the transdiscipliary research and teaching framework:

Animal ecology (mainly movement ecology on bird species and butterflies)
Vegetation ecology (species composition along transects)
Rapid Ecosystem Function Assessment (REFA) (plot-wise)
Land cover (change) detection (using an unmanned aerial vehicle, quatrocopter)
Social sciences (questionnaires with farmers and expert interviews to identify human livelihood needs)

The complete programme of the kick-off day is provided here.

9th-11th March 2016: Three days workshop at the South Eastern Kenya University SEKU, Kitui, with representatives of all institutions and stakeholders involved in this project. The South Eastern Kenya University SEKU is located on an outstanding hilltop of the Yatta Plateau. The young university offers various student courses at bachelor and master level, like Environmental Management, Environmental Conservation and Natural Resources Management, Land Resources Management, Biology, and Forestry. During the three days workshop, the attendees were kindly hosted in the guest-house of the university, which is surrounded by 10,000 acres of wilderness.


Scientists responsible for one of the five working packages introduced the work load and methodology in more detail and highlighted open questions during the first day of the workshop. Challenge and chance of this project is to bring together scientists from different disciplines and research fields. The study setup has to be harmonized where possible, as data-sets will be combined if possible to shed light on identical topics, but from different perspectives. This holistic approach shall allow to create a complete picture on human livelihood needs and nature conservation. Joint-data-sets will provide potential synergies (method and topic wise). Such holistic approaches are particularly of relevance in human-dominated regions, where nature conservation can only be implemented together with the local human population. However, such transdisciplinary procedures are still rare and evidence based nature conservation is still en vogue despite many conservation biologists argue:

“Conservation is primarily not about biology but about people and the choices they make, and is therefore influenced by an array of socioeconomic and political constraints and opportunities, such as opportunity costs, funding, incentives, willingness to participate, modes of governance, institutional capacity, and an underlying value system that determines the cultural legitimacy of certain social sacrifices and behaviors.” Balmford &Cowling (2006) Conserv. Biol. 20:692–695.

During the second day of the workshop, further practical details were elaborated in teamwork. The outcome were presented by students. As “Ecology is always noisy” (statement by Sebastian Meyer), main focus during this second day was to elaborate and select the most appropriate study-designs (plots or transects) and to identify and extract the most meaningful units (taxa) to be assessed in the field. Furthermore, collected data should warrant comparability (across working packages, but also among the three study regions which will  be analysed during the next years).

For example, for Rapid Ecosystem Function Assessment the group decided to collect data in distinct study plots (randomly spread along the river, in riparian thicket, exotic invasive Lantana camara, and agricultural land). The parameters were reduced to the most relevant characters (as all parameters cannot be assessed within this short time period and by only few people). Parameters of relevance are indicated by red circles in the slide below (for all details on the REFA method see Meyer et al. 2015).


For the vegetation assessment, the group decided to collect data along transects (which will be set each 100m on both sides of the Nzeeu and Kalundu river). We further discussed parameters and the most appropriate units to be collected in the field: For example, the animal ecology studies (particularly movement ecology) decided to work on typical riparian forest bird species which represent the ecosystem and might provide insights into habitat needs, potential barriers and corridors while foraging through the recent highly fragmented landscape mosaic. Interviews on human behaviour (willingness, awareness, consciousness) will randomly be conducted in four pre-defined zones along the Nzeeu river. During this day, most of the working groups did some final modifications on their field work protocols (e.g. the social science group improved the translation of the questionnaire).

The workshops were framed by several explorative excursions at the large SEKU compound, very early in the morning and during sun-set (and night!).

The relevance of a transcisciplinary study framework became very evident during discussions of this workshop. Many text books and research articles on nature conservation argue that ecological data  (on ecosytems and single taxa) may help to improve the efficiency of management strategies (e.g. Sutherland et al. 2004). However, most of such management plans are far from being realistic, in particular when strategies has to be implemented in areas which are dominated by the human being. Thus, delineating potential conservation strategies has to include (i) human livelihood needs and ecosystem functions, as well as (ii) the protection of fragile biodiversity (like endangered species). In consequence, nature conservation should mainly focus on intact and diverse landscapes than on the protection of single selected species. Cultural and behavioural aspects of the human being has to be taken into consideration and might be of even higher relevance than improved knowledge on species´ ecology and behaviour. The coherence between nature conservation and human were summarized in a the following conceptual framework consisting of five chronological steps, as indicated by Kim Mortega in her talk:

KimMortega_FlulssdiagrammDuring the third day, we discussed two master thesis from students of SEKU (Effects of light pollution on arthropod diversity at SEKU campus; and land cover change detection in the Makueni County). We closed the workshop with two practical demonstrations: Sebastian Meyer explained and demonstrated various REFA applications in the field and Mike Teucher gave an introduction on how to use a drone and clarified that unmanned aerial vehicles are more than a toy and help to produce valuable high resolution aerial pictures and to gain valuable information on the recent status of the land cover (degree of invasion by exotic plant species, detection of land cover changes during months and years). The drone was an excitement at the SEKU campus – as well as in the field.

About 30 scientists and students participated at the three-days workshop at SEKU (and the one-day kick-off meeting in Nairobi), from all participating universities and institutions: Dr. Carol Hunja, Dr. Sichangi Kasili, Dr. Patrick Kisangau and Dr. Josphert Kimatu from SEKU; Dr. Maarifa Mwakumanya, Dr. Okeyo Benards, Prof. Dr. Halimu Shauri from PU; Prof. Dr. Marianne Maghgida and Prof. Dr. Hamadi Iddi Boga from TTUC; Dr. Ronald K. Mulwa from NMK; PD Dr. Jan C. Habel, Rebecca Rogers M.Sc. and Dr. Sebastian Meyer from TUM, PD Dr. Christine Schmitt from Bonn University and Mike Teucher M.Sc. from Trier University. Most of the students subsequently joint the field work activities around Kitui during the following two weeks.

The complete programme of the workshop is provided here.

We all enjoyed the hospitality of SEKU, fruitful and exciting discussions with the Kenyan scientists and students, and the beauty of this remote area.

11th-27th March 2016: Fieldwork around Kitui, along Nzeeu and Kalundu river, with students and scientists from Germany and Kenya; developing and set-up of our study-design, collection of data, data preparation and provisional data analysis and data interpretation. Conclusive data analyses will be conducted in Germany.

The two selected rivers south of Kitui, Nzeeu and Kalundu river, tributary streams to the Athi river system, are important life-lines (for many animal and plant species), but also provide important ecosystem services for the human being, setteling along these rivers. The former riparian vegetation became strongly degraded due to human demographic pressure and caused a subsequent transformation of indigenous riparian vegetation into agricultural plots. In the meanwhile, major proportions of former riparian vegetation became invaded by the exotic plant species Lantana camara. Apart from direct destructions of former habitats, climate change (dryer and warmer climatic conditions) are assumed to negatively affect this region. These factors strongly modify and shape the current environmental conditions in this semi-arid region, which negatively affect food security and ecosystem functions, as well as the persistence of many endangered plant and animal species (see Habel et al. 2015).


Riparian forests provide important linear corridors throughout semiarid savannas of East Africa. Some species can exclusively found in this vegetation type. However, rapid habitat destruction caused a severe decline of biodiversity, like a loss of many typical riparian forest species. Various studies indicate a significant relationship between species´ abundance and population density. In consequence, landscapes of low quality may finally loose a major proportion of its pristine biodiversity, as observed for the Kenyan endemic Hindes Babbler, Turdoides hindei (Habel et al. 2015).

Apart from the provision of pristine habitat structures for endangered species, still intact reparian forests provide various important ecosystem services and ressources for the local human population: Ground water (for food crop production), fertile soil as well as soil to produce bricks, wood for charcoal and brick production as well as for timber. Thus, the preservation of intact environments along streams are of relevance for both – endangered species and the human being. Thus, integrative conservation strategies considering both (nature and human) are crucial.

Due to the rapidly growing human population in Kenya (particularly along rivers), riparian vegetation occurs today in small and isolated remnants. This trend negatively affect habitat availability, habitat quality, and various ecosystem functions. Previous studies showed that especially riparian habitat specialists (adapted on riparian vegetation) suffer under ongoing habitat destrcution as most of potentially remaining habitat patches are too small and isolated, and thus are no more suitable for many species (potential versus effective habitat size) (more details see Habel et al. 2015). This may finally lead to a complete loss of a major proportion of biodiversity, and to a severe reduction of life-quality for the local human population. The following figure indicates suitable habitat patches (in orange and red) for four riparian bird species – T. hinde is the most specialised bird species and thus is assumed to suffer the most under ongoing habitat deterioration.

SDMs_Drei Flüsse_Vier ArtenDespite ongoing habitat destruction, the riparian vegetation still holds highly diverse biodiversity. During an ornithological excursion along Kalundu river we found more than 60 bird species in only three hours. In the meanwhile, some of these bird species are using the exotic invasive Lantana camara thicket as surrogate habitat, even the highly endangered Kenyan endemic Hindes Babbler Turdoides hindei (Teucher et al. 2015). However, to ecological value of exotic invasive species and its general relevance to act as novel ecosystem remains questionable, especially when focusing on the mass of biodiversity – arthropods.

During the following two weeks we divided the participants into five working groups, supervised by five German scientists, and supported by collaborators from Kenya: Social sciences (Rebecca Rogers), Land cover mapping (land cover change detection) (Mike Teucher), vegetation ecology (Christine Schmitt), Rapid Ecosystem Function Assessment REFA (Sebastian Meyer), and animal ecology (Jan Christian Habel). Data assessments were conducted by nine German students (Lisa Otten, Dennis Saler, Jana Holler, Dominik Meyer, Vinzenez Eichinger, Wieland Feuerabendt, Rebekka Honecker, Marie Heuberger, Christine Geelhaar, see picture below, with Jan C. Habel and Onesmus Kioko) and four Kenyan students, two from SEKU (Jane Evelyn Mutunga and Mery Cheruto), and two from PU (Mwanzi Obeka Bonventure and Agnes Koamboka Ombati). Furthermore, four researchers and technicians from the National Museums of Kenya and from SEKU assisted us in the field: Morris Mutua, Kennedy Matheka and Onesmus Kioko from the NMK, and Danson Maseka Kioko from SEKU.


Further details on distinct working packages and the repsective field work are explained in the following:

Land cover mapping: High resolution, georeferenced aerial pictures were produced along a 15km strip of Nzeeu and Kalundu river, covering 300m river banks on both sides of the rivers. Data collection was split into more than 100 flight missions. This detailed land cover assessment was performed with a DJI Phantom 2 quadrocopter and a GoPro HERO 4 camera. This dataset will create important background information for many other working packages, but also forms an independent research package, which evaluates the degree of vegetation degradation and the spatial configuration of the remaining riparian thicket patches. Temporal comparative analyses on land cover changes will be analysed using historical aerial pictures, taken by the British Royal Airforce during the 40s, 60s and 80s (picture below – remark: Nzeeu river on the left, Kalundu river on the right, with Wikililye in the centre), kindly provided by the Survey of Kenya.kitui_15_2862Animal ecology: In the animal ecology working package we mainly focused on habitat needs and the movment behaviour of selected riparian bird species. We used VHF telemetry (Pib-tags) to track 11 typical riparian bird species over a period of two weeks. Based on these occurence points (from triangulation), in combination with the detailed land cover map (provided from the working package described above), we will be able to detect potential barriers and corridors for these species. One of the targeted species here was the highly endangered Kenyan endemic Hindes Babbler Turdoides hindei. These data will allow to evaluate habitat preferences and might provide valuable information about how to design human-wildlife-corridors along rivers of semiarid south-east Kenya.

Rapid Ecosystem Function Assessment: Intact functions in an ecosystem are the pre-requisite for both, high quality habitats for endangered, endemic species as well as for ecosystem services used by the local human population. A rapid ecosystem function assessment describes the condition of an ecosystem by assessing selected parameters. REFA protocols, developed by Sebastian Meyer, are cost and time efficient and thus can be applied easily all over the world (in terrestrial but also marine ecosystems, see Lefcheck et al. 2016). The REFA working group set 90 20x20m plots along the Nzeeu river, with 100m distant from each other. The following parameters were collected: abundance and biomass by measuring seed removal and collecting flying arthropods with pan traps (see pictures below), biomass of ground dwelling arthropods using pit fall traps, and the degree of predation with artificial caterpillars.

Vegetation ecology: Vegetation structure and species composition were assessed along 100m transects, 300m distant from each other. Species assessments were conducted at Nzeeu and Kalundu river (a comparative approach, with Nzeeu river being highly degraded and Kalundu river still representing intact pristine vegetation structures). As plant diversity is very high, only woody species with dbh (diameter at breast height) considered. Based on these data the group is interested to analyse (i) the degree of invasion by exotic plant species and (ii) the legacy of former pristine vegetation still available in highly degraded environments. This working package was conducted under supervision of Christine Schmitt, in collaboration with scientists from National Museums of Kenya.

Social sciences: 200 interviews were conducted with farmers cultivating along the Nzeeu river. 50 farmers were interviewed randomly and anonymously in each of 4 pre-defined zones (covered by the land-mapping of the drone – see above). The questionnaire was designed to gain knowledge on four main issues: 1) Socio-demographic data of farmers and side conditions (age, gender, education, children, landownership); 2) Land-use (production of goods, reasons for production, size of fields, problems of farming); 3) Awareness & Attitudes (familiarity with conservation terms, environmental awareness, attitude towards protection of species, information/media usage); 4) Willingness (Effort to protect nature, willingness of changing farming techniques, involvement in protection actions along the river). Two teams of students were conducting the interviews – each team consisted of 1 Kenyan and 1 German student. Special thanks goes to the two Kenian students and the German TUM students, particularly to Christine Geelhaar, for their strong commitment. Besides the 200 interviews, we also got 3 experts to answer questions on the current management situation of the Nzeeu river.

What was remarkable was the kindness of participating farmers and their families. Only one out of the 200 approached farmers was not willing to undertake the questionnaire. All other participants placed chairs for all of us to sit and we received a great variety of fruits. Many times, the group sitting around us grew fastly, as neighbours and family members came to see what was going on. We enjoyed the discussions and amazing hospitality of the people and hope that our results and insights will help to develop effective and sustainable management strategies to ensure both: the protection of the highly valuable nature and the fulfillment of people’s needs.

In a next, concluding step, each working group will analyse their data and will subsequently combine the own data-set with the findings from other working packages – to profit from potential synergies. This will allow to improve the explanatory power of single working packages and will produce a complete picture on human needs and nature conservation for this region. Joint-data-sets will allow to indicate potential knowing-doing-gaps, and to analyse the relevance the gap between institutions and the local people. Joint data-sets will give valuable indication on potential ecological effects from habitat destruction and degradation on (i) ecosystem functions (and subsequent life quality), (ii) vegetation structure, and (iii) the persistence of biodiversity.

Finally, we will translate these scientific findings into practical advices: How to improve the environmental conditions (and thus human livelihood) along such rivers. Particularly we are interested to recommend specific pristine tree species which are useful for the local human population (ecosystem functions and the cultural legacy) and which also provide important habitat structures for rare species (evidences from animal and vegetation ecology). Practical management advices will be elaborated hand in hand with local insitutions, as the National Environmental Management Authority, NEMA, the Kenyan Forest Service, and other stakeholders located in the Kitui County. IMG_7933During the stay in the field, the students were hosted in a local Kenyan family, the Mutuas, located in the middle of our study region. We would like to thank for their great hospitality throughout the time, and the unique chance for sharing the Kenyan way-of-life with us!

We are looking foreward having a second fruitful activity very soon in Freising, Germany!

1st-6th April 2016: Path-finding mission and preparation of the 2017-activity in the East African coastal forest. The East African coastal forest is one of the 35 global biodiversity hotspots (sensu Conservation International), and is characterised by extraordinary high species richness (including many endemic plant and animal species), and a high degree of habitat destruction. The largest still remaining patch of primary coastal forest can be found along the coast of Kenya. The management of the forest differs strongly: The Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve (managed by Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service) is the largest intact forest patch of this forest type worldwide, located between Kilifi and Malindi, and is mainly designated as conservation area (however, logging and poaching inside of this area is still continuing); the Kaya Forests are spiritual places, and still consist of dense primary forest in different sizes, found between Mombasa and Kilifi – classified and conserved today as National Monuments due to its cultural (and natural) value; the Dakatcha woodland, north of Malindi, is partially covered by the same forest type, however, most of it is strongly degraded and major parts are designated as “Communal Land”, and thus for use of the local human population. Human demograpic pressure, low governance and a lack of management strategies (and interest) cause a severe and further reduction of these already small, unique forest patches, with negative consequences for many endangered species, like the endemic Arabuko Sokoke Scopes Owl (see picture below).


During a four-days brainstorning with various governmental and non-governmental organisations we developed potential reserach questions and teaching perspectives. We have selected areas and sites for the upcoming activity in spring 2017. We had very fuitful discussions with representatives of the following stakeholders: Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) (both officially having the mandate and responsibility to conserve the Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve), Nature Kenya (former East Africa Natural History Society), National Mseums of Kenya (responsible for the Kaya Forests National Monuments), Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), Coastal Forest Conservation Union (CFCU) – part of NMK, Kipepea project, A Rocha Kenya, and our colleagues from Pwani University, Kilifi. Three masterstudents from Germany (Ivon Constanza Cuadros Casanova, Camilo Zamora and Sina Hesse) are working in these three forest areas for the next months and will collect first data (on butterfly communities and the population structure of the Arabuko Sokoke Scopes Owl).

15th June-15th July 2016: Muthio Joslyn Nzau visited the Chair of Terrestrial Ecology, Technical University Munich, to work on her PhD and a first data-set collected in the framework of the DAAD quality network (see above). Find below her short report about her stay in Germany:

“I am excited to be part of this project. Not only do I get to advance my career in science as a PhD student, but I also get to an opportunity to do research on a subject I am passionate about; biodiversity conservation. My current interest hinges on exploring the nexus between people and the ecosystem in fragile forest regions in Southeastern Kenya. That is; Kitui riparian gallery forests, Arabuko-Sokoke lowland coastal forest and Taita hills cloud forests. During my one month visit to the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Freising I carried out data analysis on the social data collected in riparian gallery forests close to Kitui from earlier this year. Key among my first results is that the decisions of local people in Kitui regarding their environment is a complex process that is mediated by intricate intervening variables such as lived realities, institutions and cultural changes. From this data, I made a presentation to the PhD working group at the
Department of Ecology and Ecosystem management. I got expert insights and guidance on how to incorporate natural science data into my findings; which is critical for my interdisciplinary approach in understanding the intricacies of biodiversity conservation and/or loss. Below is a snapshot of my presentation. I am now in the process of writing my first paper from this work. I am privileged to have very supportive and committed supervisors, Dr. Jan Habel and Prof. Marco Rieckmann. I must also acknowledge the support and guidance of Rebecca Rogers during my stay in TUM.” (by Muthio J. Nzau)

The relevance of social sciences in nature conservation will also be a key-topic in future teaching and research activities in the framework of this DAAD biodiversity quality network. Thus, future activities around the Arabuko Sokoke forest between Malindi and Kilifi will be under the headline: “Culture and Conservation”. These activities will also take place in the pristine forests patches protected as cultural sites – the Kayas (National Monuments) close to Mombasa (see picture below, Sinaida Hesse, a TUM-master student with the elders of a Kaya Fungo).


April-September 2016: Population ecology of the Arabuko Sokoke Scopes Owl Otus ireneae; Ivon Constanza Cuadros Casanova and Camilo Zamora, master students of the Technical University Munich, spent 5 months in the Arabuko Sokoke forest to study the population ecology and behaviour of the Sokoke Scopes Owl (see pictures below). First studies conducted by M Virani indicated that this bird species has a restricted home range and very specific habitat demands. The two master students assessed various data: (i) Complete presence/absence  assessment based on play back calls; (ii) Detailed vegetation assesment and habitat structures at sites occupied/un-occupied by O. ireneae; (iii) Telemetry studies including males, females and juveniles to analyse home range sizes, movement activities and habitat preference (see picture below, one individual with a transmitter); (iii) Collection of pellets (see picture below) under occupied roosting trees to determine the consistence of the species´ diet; (iv) Poaching activities (wood and bush meat) by assessing logging  camps all over the study region, which is assumed to negatively affects the habitat quality and thus species persitence of O. ireneae. The two candidates will analyse and publish their data in the next step. (Pictures by Ivon Constanza Cuadros Casanova and Camilo Zamora).

April-June 2016: Sinaida Hesse, master student of Technical University Munich, conducted a detailed butterfly assessment along line-transects during a two month stay in the Arabuko Sokoke forest, incorporating different forest types (Cynometra, Brachystegia, mixed forest), and forest qualities – the core vs edge of the forest, different types of plantations, agroforestry systems. Based on these data she will identify different species communities depending the vegetation type, and the effect from negative edge effects (habitat quality). Butterflies and butterfly farming provides an important alternative income source for the local people (see the Kipepepo project, see pictures below), but also arise many questions about potential negative impact from the illeagal collection of butterflies (and their pupae) after the market of butterfly trading were established. This study will be repeated during spring 2017 by using identical transects.

The Arabuko Sokoke Forest is under severe environmental pressure, due to various reasons: (i) climate change (with subsequent negative effect on food security, which increases the pressure on the forest for alternative income – from wood and game), (ii) illegal usage of forest ressources like wood and bush meat (see pictures below); (iii) very high demograhic pressure (need of land); (iv) very high densities of elephants inside of the forest (which are fenced to prevent human wildlife conflicts). (Pictures by Ivon Constanza Cuadros Casanova and Camilo Zamora).