Fieldwork in Taita Hills

Field courses has taken place around Ngerenyi Agricultural Campus of Taita Taveta University, across the agricultural land, in plantations and the remainig cloud forest patches close to Wundanyi, as well as in Chawia. Main goal of this-years activities was the evaluatiomn of the ecological value of the remaining forest patches, the relevance of surrogate habitats such as exotic tree plantations for forest species, as well as various aspects related to human livelihood needs and life-quality. The field courses started with a two-days workshop at Taita Taveta University (main campus) during the 31st July and 1st of August. Subsequent fieldwork was devided into several smaller working groups (described in the following):

Land tenure: Ecosystem health and the provisioning of ecosystem services are getting influenced from tenure regimes. In this working package, scientists and students analysed land use and agricultural techniques at individual land-plots. The combination of information from surveys and the mapping of properties provide details on the family structure, formal and informal rights of land-ownership, and identify potential conflicts of land use. The assessed data comprise all fields such as environment and agriculture as well as sociological aspects. Goal is to collect data for more than 500 land-plots across Taita Hills, mainly close to Ngerenyi Agricultural Campus of Taita Taveta University. The following students participated in this thematic working package: Thilo Sebald, Adeline Mkawajomba Kisombe, Hamisi Tsama Mkuzi, Allan Oloo Odhiambo, Liliane Raths, David Ayariga and Adrian Bruhn (the students condcuted their masters and bachelor theses), supervised by Tobias Bendzko and Felix Korbinian.

Mobile-App for land-tenure: The development of a mobile map application for mapping land-tenure allows the immediate compilation of all data collected in the field, with one single device and its immediate saving in a cloud web storage. Such novel techniques might improve data collection of all working groups gathering data in the field. The development of a mobile App was particularly designed for the land-tenure group (see above). This App can be used with tablets and various smartphones, based on the ESRI Platform Arc Studio. The development and programming of this tool was performed by Gertrud Schaab and Jan Jedersberger.

Social sciences: Anthropogenic landscapes are becoming directly influenced by human attitudes and behaviour. Various studies showed that knowledge, but also cultural attitudes as well as the level of poverty shape human behaviour and subsequently the structure of landscapes and ecosystem health. Studies showed that high poverty rates and low governance structures frequently lead to the vanishing of intact ecosystems and landscapes, with negative impact on human life-quality. Land management in Taita Hills is characterized by various communication gaps among stakeholders (GO, NGOs, CBOs – Local Community based Organizations). Participants of this working group conducted an extensive survey (among 300 local residents) and structured expert interviews (about 10).

The data provide insight into environmental knowledge, peoples´ awareness and behaviour, governance structures, the use of resources, indigenous knowledge, attitudes towards forest conservation and usage of forest ressources. Participants of this working package were: Ruth Lozi Muranga, Timothy Musa, Slas Neguse, Jana Rülke, Anna Nies and Althea Hochtritt. These data will be integrated in a running PhD thesis (conducted by Muthio J. Nzau). Furthermore, the students are using the data collected to write their masters and bachelor theses. This activity was supervised by Marco Rieckmann (University of Vechta) and Muthio J. Nzau (TUM). Find below some impressions of the rural life of Taita people.

Drone based land cover assessment: The Taita Hills as a densely populated region comprises a mosaic consisting of various land cover types: Highly populated settlements adjoined by terraced farmland along the steep slopes of the hills, reaching from the valleys almost up to the ridges. The remaining forest patches suffer under the exploitation of natural resources (such as the usage of wood for cooking). To analyse the current land use composition we used an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), here a DJI Phantom 3 drone, equipped with a high-resolution camera. Due to high relief intensity flight missions were programmed as squares covering 400 x 400 meters. Pictures were taken from 50m altitude. After image acquisition the next steps were imagery processing. These data in combination with data collected by the vegetation ecology group will provide details which allow to evaluate the current condition of the forest and will give insights on anthropogenic disturbances and spatial information on the land use intensity. This activity was supervised by Mike Teucher (Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg). Find below some impressions taken during data collection.

Vegetation ecology: The Taita Hills could forests were destroyed almost completely due to its transformation into subsistence agricultural plots and plantations of exotic trees (mainly Eucalyptus spec.). Nevertheless, there still exist some small remnants of pristine cloud forest patches. The group assessed the structure and species composition of typical cloud forest (in Chawia, one of the largest remaining forest patch) and Fururu (one of the most disturbed forest patch). This working group analysed the level of forest degradation and tree species diversity. Apart from these two forest fragments, they also assessed remaining forest tree species across agricultural land. Data collection was performed in 20 x 20m plots (in the forest) and in 10 x 50m plots across the agricultural land. In addition, in this working package, participants also analysed the role of tree nurseries for the reforestation in Taita Hills. The following persons participated in this group: Delphina Dali Mzozo, Sylvia Mwelu Mutunga and Mathias Mbale (an excellent plant taxonomist from National Museums of Kenya). This working group was supervised by Christine Schmitt and Peter Borchardt (who is leading a related DAAD Quality Network Biodiversity in Ethiopia – the ARBONETH).

Butterfly ecology: Butterflies respond highly sensitive to ecological conditions, and environmental changes. Butterfly species were assessed and counted (species-wise, individual-wise) along 150m transects, which were set in the following habitat categories: Agricultural land, indigenous cloud forest, forest edge, exotic tree plantation. Transect counts were repeated about 10 times.

These data give answers on the following research questions: (i) Do butterfly communities from the forest differ from butterfly communities found in agricultural land? (ii) Do exotic tree plantations provide a surrogate habitat for typical forest butterflies? (iii) Do butterfly composition represent the situation of a transition habitat between closed and open habitat, along the forest edge? Due to the fact that butterfly communities were already analysed along the same transects during the last rainy season (in March and April 2018), a fourth research question can be elaborated: (iv) Do butterfly communities differ seasonally, between the rainy and dry season? The activities in this working package were supervised by Thomas Schmitt ( Senckenberg Deutsches Entomologisches Institut Müncheberg), and joined by Jan C. Habel (TUM) and Henrike Büschel, as well as Lewis Mwadime. Find below a collage of some of very beautiful butterflies found in Taita Hills.

Ecology of small mammals and birds: Species respond on environmental conditions. In turn, different environmental conditions (such as different habitats, but also different levels of habitat quality) may impact species composition and species´ abundance. Thus, habitat types and the availability of resources across landscapes directly influence the structure of species community. In this working package, small mammals and birds were assessed in two study areas with two different habitat settings: (i) A large forest patch surrounded by agricultural land and plantations of exotic trees; (ii) Small forest patches scattered through an agricultural landscape and surrounded by plantations of exotic trees. Small mammals were trapped with Sherman life-traps set in 40 x 40m grids (with 16 traps each) within these habitat categories (with 10 repetitions for each habitat categories, and 3 nights of traping). Birds were assessed based on point counts at the same sites (with 3 points per site, 3 repetitions, 10 minutes at each point).

Based on these data on the presence / absence of species and species abundance in different habitat types (large forest, small forest patches, exotic tree plantations, agricultural land) the following research questions are in focus: (i) Are small forest fragments still occupied by typical forest species? (ii) Do exotic tree plantations provide a surrogate habitat for forest species? (iii) Do birds and mammals respond differently to different landscape settings and habitat qualities? Participants of this working package were Laura Prötzel and Elisabeth Kirchner – supervised by Christina Fischer and Jan C. Habel (small mammal group); Ednah Kulola and Moses Mulwa conducted the bird counts, supervised by Onesmus Kioko, an excellent ornithologist from National Museums of Kenya.