East African Ecosystems and Their Conservation

East African Ecosystems and Their Conservation

East African Ecosystems and Their Conservation

East African Ecosystems and Their Conservation


East Africa is one of the most diverse and interesting tropical area on the planet. It is home not only to the last great megafaunal assemblage, but also to human populations with the highest growth rates. This book draws on the expertise of leading ecologists, each intimately familiar with a particular set of East African ecosystems, to provide the first in-depth and integrated account of the ecology, management, threats, and conservation of these diverse ecosystems. Summarizing the tremendous wealth of scientific research that has come out of East Africa in the last few decades, each chapter analyses a given ecosystem type, taking the reader through the basics of its ecology, its historical use (and misuse) by humans, and its prospects for conservation. Throughout the book, linkages and similarities among ecosystems are emphasized, the historical and contemporary role of humans in shaping these ecosystems is considered, fundamental principles of ecology are considered, and interesting case studies are highlighted. Students and researchers in ecology, conservation biology, and environmental sciences will find this book useful in their work.


Fifty years after the first national parks were established in East Africa we can reflect with some satisfaction on the role they play today. Our protected areas have become the sin qua non of conservation and no less important to the regional human economy. That at least is the common perception.

A closer look at the significance of protected areas quickly exposes their inadequacy. The reality is that our protected areas are wholly insufficient to guard against large-scale extinction, ecological disruption and biological impoverishment over the next fifty years. The threats to biological diversity and the productivity of our natural resources have as much to do with ecological ignorance as human numbers and over use.

The founders of our protected areas clearly had the recent extinction of the bison, bluebok and quagga in mind when they set aside parks and reserves to safeguard East Africa's great wildlife herds. We owe an enormous debt to their compassion and foresight. But, in all too many respects, the apparent safety of the great herds in Serengeti, Tsavo, Amboseli and other parks and reserves has beguiled us into thinking all was well, that conservation ends once we have set aside land for our most visible and vulnerable wildlife.

In reality, the protected areas are far from adequate. Most were set aside to protect the savanna's large mammal populations and largely ignore the many other habitats in East Africa, particularly forests and wetlands. Then again, few if any parks cover a complete ecosystem anyway, leaving entire communities or vital parts of the ecosystem outside of the protected-area boundaries.

For the most part, the chances of adequate biotic representation and complete ecosystem coverage by expanding protected areas is now remote. Land is too precious and the demands placed on it by a burgeoning population too great to depend on new areas for conservation.

New protected areas would, however, not necessarily solve the problems unless the areas were unimaginably large - an order of magnitude or two larger than present parks. The reason comes down to the importance of space. Species and ecological communities need space in order to escape local exigencies of climate, disease, predation and random disruptive events which cause localized extinction. Without space, and plenty of it, there is no escape from localized extinction, or source populations elsewhere to recolonize an area when conditions favor recovery. The requirement for large areas militates against the viability of parks as stand-alone conservation entities in the long run.

The maintenance of ecological processes is another constraint on conservation. Conservation is not only about protecting species, but also about maintaining the intricate biological and physical processes which support these species, and of course humans and our natural resources. We are now only beginning to appreciate how complex and intimately linked such processes are, and how vulnerable to disruption. Once disrupted, biological systems and the productivity of our natural resources whether forestry, fisheries or wildlife - are at risk.

It is especially important to understand these processes in East Africa, for no place on Earth has such a long history of human occupation. Our present-day ecosystems have evolved over the last two million years, two million years in which humans have played an enormous and incompletely understood role in . . .

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