Kenyan partners at TUM

Muthio Joslyn Nzau visited the Chair of Terrestrial Ecology, Technical University Munich from 15th June-15th July 2016, 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).

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Two Kenyan scientists, Dr. Josphert N. Kimatu and Dr. Ronald K. Mulwa from SEKU and NMK, and two kenyan students from SEKU, Mercy C. Kebenei and Evelyn Jane Mutunga, visited the Chair of Terrestrial Ecology, Technical University Munich from 16th October-14th of November, to attend various activities (lectures, workshops, brainstorming) here at the Technical University Munich, to discuss upcoming activities in spring 2017 in Kenya, and to elaborate a contribution about “Ecosystem health erosion in semiarid riparian forests of East Africa”. We conducted an intensive brainstorming together with PD Dr. Christine Schmitt (Bonn University) on the assessed vegetation data which were collected during our field work in March 2016 along degraded rivers south of Kitui (south-east Kenya). The four Kenyan visitors attended the “Moore Landscape” activitiy at TUM, and visited the Max Planck Institut Seewiesen together with Dr. Beate Apfelbeck (TUM) (see picture below). A key-activitiy during their stay was an intensive R-course given by Dr. Jan O. Engler (Ghent University, Belgium) and a two days brainstorming together with Prof. Dr. Luc Lens (Ghent University, Belgium). All four attendies gave very interesting talks on their current work in our weekly working-group meeting and Dr. Ronald K. Mulwa gave a very interesting 45 min contribution in colloquium-series of our department. Main results of this stay are the preparation of two articles – one about the Arabuko Sokoke coastal forest, and a second large syntehsis article in which we summarize major activities which were conducted during this first year – in the framework of the DAAD Quality Network Kenya. Find below the short reports provided by the four visitors and collaborators.

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“Reconciling human needs, environmental conservation and ecosystem services was framed as the thrust of this DAAD project.  I intrinsically knew it was a challenge but, when the project was initiated to come up with a model or solutions, I was excited. I looked forward to join up with TUM to understand and brainstorm on how to bring different experienced scientist to analyze the multidisciplinary data we had collected at Nzeeu River in Kitui County, Kenya. The program was well organized before we left Kenya. We quickly gained momentum and had very fruitful brainstorming sections. We had a systematic examination of vegetation cover with Dr. Christine Schmitt in which we shared the social drivers of fruit trees on the farms, the observed “elimination “ or reduction of indigenous tree species and the impact of invasive species. The analysis fitted well on the historical social trends to meet human needs. Our results predicted a good paper to inform policy makers on the impact and possible restoration models of the riparian zones. The second item in the program was an intensive GIS data analysis course of using the R-software.  This was an unforgettable day, by Dr. Jan O. Engler, we came to realize why it is the cheapest and easiest data analysis software. We learnt the basic utilization of the software and the more advanced and interactive applications.   It made us to see data analysis in an entirely new perspective. I am going to use it for a long time. Over the first weekend, we visited the ornithology department of Max Planck. We learnt from some of the edge-cutting PhD research from the institute how the cuckoos’ birds have polyandrous way of life and how research is going on to determine some conservation trends using an in-depth analysis of five hypothesis.” (By Josphert N. Kimatu).

“The beginning of this year’s winter met me in Germany. My visit to the Technical University Munich (TUM) in Freising together with colleagues from South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) was supported by the DAAD-Quality Network Biodiversity Kenya project in which we are collaborators. Our visit was full of exciting activities with really no room for dull moments. Having studied in Frankfurt for my PhD, my familiarity with the German language and culture was an asset to our Kenyan group especially when we were on our own in the city rounds.

Participating in the Landscape 2056 Workshop organized by the faculty of landscape architecture and landscape planning was a particularly inspiring experience since it challenged me on how much ahead people should think and plan in order to conserve nature in a changing world. Then came Dr Jan Engler with the international language in Statistics namely R. I got to refresh my knowledge on the software and its application in GIS and home range telemetry. One thing I had always wanted to do was to visit the famous Max Plank Institute for Ornithology and therefore setting my feet on this place was so rewarding indeed. In the process I also had a great reunion with one of my mentors in research career, Prof Luc Lens of University of Gent, Belgium, whom I knew some 20 years ago. As usual he was very resourceful during the round table brainstorming session on the synthesis papers and possible future research questions in Kenya!.

I interacted and made new important contacts with the friendly members at the Terrestrial Ecology working group of TUM where I also shared about my institution The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and Biodiversity Research in Kenya general. Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Freising and would love to visit again. I look forward to welcoming the TUM team to Kenya in February during the next field season in Arabuko Sokoke Forest.”  (By Ronald K. Mulwa).

“I must admit that it is a great privilege and opportunity for me to be part of this project.  Biodiversity Conservation has been a major issue of concern in Kenya in the recent past and thus I appreciate and don’t take lightly any chance to take part in any activity or project geared towards such studies in order to achieve a balance between nature conservation and livelihood well-being. As a student of South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) pursing a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, my key interest is on building socio-ecological resilience for livelihood and environmental well-being, with special emphasis on Land use and land cover changes, their human-related driving forces and the resulting impacts on livelihood and environmental well- being. During my one month visit to Technical University of Munich (TUM), Freising, I was involved in Lab work activities, specifically sorting of samples collected from the field along Nzeu River in Kitui County, Kenya. I also attended lecturers that were relevant to my area of study i.e Experimental Design by Dr. Sharon Zytynska. I also got the chance to be part of the group that attended an International conference; ‘Landschaft 2016’ that took place in TUM, Freising. It was also a great exposure to get a chance to present my Masters Thesis work to the Department of Ecology and Ecosystem Management. I got relevant comments, corrections and inputs on how to improve the quality of my work. The visit was very helpful since I also got a chance to undertake an intensive GIS course and a training on utilization of statistical packages i.e R-studio. Generally, I am grateful to have had the chance to visit TUM and to be part of this amazing project.” (By Mercy Cheruto Kebenei).

Am privileged to have been part of the biodiversity conversation and livelihood needs reconciliation project. The activities of the project undertaken so far have been invaluable to me as an Environmental Management student. The project has enabled me participate in studies on the impacts of  human activities on the natural environment whose aim is the development of viable  scientific approaches to create a balance between provision of local livelihood needs and biodiversity conservation.

Being part of the project, I got an opportunity to visit the Technical University of Munich, German, where I participated in sorting REFA( Rapid Ecosystem Functions Assessment) samples collected from Nzeeu River, Kitui, Kenya. I also participated in Moore Landscape, ‘Landshaft 2056’, and workshop at TUM. I also got a golden chance to attend some lectures at TUM such as Experimental Design by Dr Sharon Zytynska. I must confess that the lectures were of great help and have helped me improve on my Thesis work as well as journal paper writing skills.

During the stay, I also attend trainings on GIS and R courses which are invaluable in my future research works. Finally, I got an opportunity to present my master’s thesis work to the great team of scholars in the Department of Ecology where I got corrections and inputs which have helped improve the quality of my work.

I would therefore like to acknowledge all the partners in this project for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to be at TUM. I would also like to appreciate Prof. Dr. Jan Habel for the warm welcome and making our stay in Freising enjoyable. May God bless you all. (by Evelyn Mutunga).