Synthesis workshop in Salzburg

Three Kenyan representatives of our partnering universities, Prof. Shauri, Prof. Maarifa of Pwani University and Marianne Maghenda of Taita Taveta University attended our workshop in Freising (Germany) and at the University of Salzburg (Austria); furthermore, one representative of a Kenyan governmental organization, Lynn Njeri of Kenyan Wildlife Service, has been attending this activity, which took place from 28th April until 13th of May 2019. Objectives of the two weeks visit were:

  • Finishing the DAAD Quality Network Biodiversity Kenya, by compiling all data sets by drafting a scientific article about the three study areas, and to elaborate three `policy briefs´ (short policy statements) for each of the three model regions;
  • Identifying potential knowledge gaps to be filled during this last year of the activity;
  • Development of a new project proposal, to continue this very fruitful activity and collaboration and network which we have established during the past years.

The two days workshop, from 30th April to 01st May, took place at the Chair of Terrestrial Ecology of Technical University Munich. The following persons attended this meeting: Prof. Shauri and Ali Maarifa (Pwani University), Marianne Maghenda (Taita Taveta University) and Lynn Njeri (Kenyan Wildlife Service); Jan Christian Habel (University of Salzburg, Austria), Beate Apfelbeck, Sebastian Meyer, Tobias Bendzko and Muthio Nzau (Technical University of Munich), Christine Schmitt (Bonn University and ZEF), Mike Teucher (Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg), Carola Paul  (University of Göttingen) and Peter Borchardt (University of Hamburg). During the first day we compiled all general findings and the data which have been collected during the past three years in our three study areas, in the Ukambani region, the coastal region and in the Taita Hills. During the second day we brainstormed and discussed how to combine these data to derive general, holistic, transdisciplinary statements (scientifically, but also politically). See below our small, but very effective workshop group.


Jan Christian Habel presented data on invertebrate ecology (butterflies mainly) collected in Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Taita Hills. Data on butterfly ecology showed that seasonality strongly shape species community. Similar findings could also be shown for small mammal communities in the Taita Hills, an activity led by Christina Fischer; here, highest species richness and abundances could be found inside of pristine and intact cloud forests. Different habitat types shape species communities. Furthermore, tree plantations do not provide suitable surrogates for typical and endangered forest species.


Beate Apfelbeck presented data on birds, which have been collected around Arabuko Sokoke Forest and in the small cloud forest fragments of Taita Hills. She reported that bird species fitness is higher inside the forest if compared with individuals caught across agricultural land. Birds living in the Taita Hill forest fragments suffer extremely under environmental stress, which negatively affects its breeding success – shown for the Cabanis Greenbul.

animal-ecology.jpgChristine Schmitt worked in all three model regions and performed vegetation assessments, and studied the impact of invasive plant species and the level of re-generation by seedlings in disturbed landscapes. Together with her team, she found that riparian forests along rivers in the Ukambani region are strongly dominated by invasive exotic plant species, such as Lantana camara, or Eucalyptus plantations in the Taita Hills. For the Arabuko Sokoke Forest the vegetation group worked along transects from forest interior into the agricultural land; they identified a Doughnut effect (picture), i.e. improved forest disturbance due to selective logging inside the forest, but still intact forest along the forest edge. This is due to illegal resource exploitation in the hidden interior – but not at the open, observable forest edge (see also Colwell_et_al_2009, Prevedello_et_al. 2013, and Ribeiro_et_al_2016).

Sebastian Meyer reported first data sets collected by the REFA group – the Rapid Ecosystem Function Assessment. Ecosystem functions are crucial for both, intact environments, habitats and thus rare species, but also for the human beings living in these landscapes. Thus, this working package combines the two fields – social sciences and natural sciences. The REFA team showed that ecosystem functions are higher close to rivers across the semiarid landscapes of Ukambani. Similar trends could be identified for the Arabuko Sokoke Forest, with higher ecosystem functions inside the forest, but lower functions across the agricultural land. For the latter study region, the team could not identify any significant positive spill over effects from forest into agricultural land.

Meyers RIFA-0001

Mike Teucher compiled interesting data and information on the historical and recent land coverage for all three model regions. The team approved a significant change of the land coverage for a section of Nzeeu River, south of Kitui between the year 1961 and today, with an increase of settlements, agricultural fields, and a change in the vegetation coverage, from indigenous riparian forest into exotic shrubs, mainly Lantana camara. Similar trends could be found for Taita Hills, with a gradual loss of indigenous forest and an increase in plantations of exotic trees; for this region, land-cover changes showed a strong increase of fallow land during the past years. For the Arabuko Sokoke Forest, the team did not identified significant changes in forest cover. This working package also formed an important link between human behaviour, demographic development and ecology.

Mikes landcover-0001

Tobias Bendzko conducted parts of his PhD thesis in the framework of this DAAD Quality Network Biodiversity, and thus, this win-win-situation strongly enriched the project, with his work and many Master and Bachelor students. Together with his team, he assessed very interesting data on the cutting edge between human behaviour, land management and ecology. Investigating the land tenure situation across the model regions focusing on security of land and willingness for sustainable management.


The social science group was mainly led by Muthio Nzau and Prof. Marco Rieckmann of the University of Vechta. Muthio Nzau is currently conducting and finishing her PhD thesis on human attitudes, behaviour and willingness towards nature conservation in the same study regions. Thus, also this group compiled many data based on surveys and expert interviews. She found for the Kitui region that there exist a severe communication gap between officers and farmers, and the willingness to act more sustainably does not depend on education, but on the availability of land being available to respective families. For Arabuko Sokoke Forest, the social sciences data showed that the cultural background is crucial and determines human behaviour and attitudes towards forest conservation. And for Taita Hills, especially human-wildlife conflicts and governance were the key issues regarding sustainable management, secure livelihood for the local population and nature conservation of the remaining forest fragments.


An overview of all data and findings are compiled in this table After these overviews, we heard a talk by Carola Paul from the University of Göttingen. She already compiled various data sets from the fields of natural sciences and social economy. She pointed out potential methodological approaches to study the status of complex systems from diverse perspectives and also potential challenges and hindrances conducting system analyses.

Paul_DefiningSocial-ecological systems-0001

During the second day we discussed about the structure and content of a scientific article about all these findings. We identified still existing knowledge and data gaps, which we will close during the next months. An overview of all existing and left research questions are provided here. We further agreed to translate our findings into practice. We will compile our data into “policy briefs”, short 1-2 pages explaining the status, drivers, challenges and potential solutions, for each single model region.


We closed our workshop with an intense brainstorming on potential future activities, which we would like to conducted with our partners in the near future. For this last step, we heard an interesting talk by Peter Borchard from the University of Hamburg, about “Church forests in Ethiopia” (further details on the relevance of church forests for nature conservation are given in a documentation of “Deutschlandradio”). We agreed that in a future activity, we will even stronger combine both fields, social sciences and natural sciences, and we will strengthen the link between theory and practice, i.e. researchers and stakeholders on the ground. During the remaining days, we elaborated a draft version of this upcoming activity, which will take place in the Kayas close to Kilifi, in the Taita Hills cloud forest remnants, and the church forests of Ethiopia. We are all looking forward to this new challenge and activities, in which we will further learn a lot from each other. The Kenyan delegation enjoyed Freising, Salzburg, Traunstein and Munich a lot. Find some impressions below: