We are experiencing an El Niño event all over the globe, seeing weather patterns that are drastically different from our seasonal norms. The Laikipia region in central Kenya is no different – in a time when it should be dry, the region has been doused with much higher rainfall than the typical average. The TBI students get to experience a green, lush Mpala rather than a dry landscape. We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to learn about the vegetation ecology at Mpala.
This module introduces students to African savannah (Mpala, Laikipia) and dryland (Illeret, Turkana) ecological systems. Ecology involves the interactions of plant and animal individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems. Over the course of these two weeks, we will learn about how to address these different levels of ecology through studies of behavior, population dynamics, community interactions and broad patterns within ecosystems. Everything is tied together in the ecological system, and vegetation ecology sets the stage for understanding all of the life that depends upon it.
The first week of the Ecology module has begun, and the students and I have been so fortunate to learn from leading local experts in the field. Kimani Ndung’u specializes in the sustainability of local vegetation within the Laikipia region. Mr. Ndung’u is a research assistant at Mpala research center and is part of important research initiatives investigating the impact of local herding practices and climate change on the environment. The majority of communities within the Laikipia region (and across most of Kenya) make their livelihoods from herding livestock. From their persepctive, livestock are wealth more so than money (one cow is equivalent to approximately $2000 USD). Therefore, the interface between vegetation ecology, climate change, and human landuse has very real implications for the lives of people here. Research initiatives seeking to understand this interface depend on data collection methods that can quantify which plant species are present and how abundant they are over time.