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York scientists help to counter climate change impact in Africa

Posted on 3 March 2008

Conservation specialists from the University of York are assessing the impact of climate change on the world’s most diverse wildlife habitats in East Africa.

Dr David Western, a Nairobi-based conservation expert who has studied the region for 40 years, is co-ordinating a new project to chart the consequences of climate change on people, animals and protected areas. The project unites staff from the University of York’s Environment Department with international scientists from the African Conservation Centre (Kenya) and the University of California San Diego and Missouri Botanical Garden (USA), as well as drawing heavily on traditional knowledge in the area.

Results will be used to develop management strategies for this vitally important area that are sensitive to climate change, population use of the area and the dynamic nature of the ecosystems.

The borderlands of Tanzania and Kenya are characterised by a wide range of environments with one of the largest concentrations of wildlife on earth. Environments range from permanent swamps to dry plains, from lush montane rainforest to savanna grasslands, teeming with herds of elephants and wildebeest migrating around the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak.

But now the effects of global climate change pose a serious threat to this extraordinary region — not only to its wildlife but to the lives of the Maasai, who have evolved with a variable climate and lived alongside the wildlife for millennia. This area is also the economic driver of the tourist industry for Kenya and Tanzania: each year over one and a half million visitors are drawn to the region’s 14 national parks, earning the two nations over $0.5 billion in vital revenue.

Funded by the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and other donors, the scientists will map the distribution of plants, mammals and birds in the borderlands — and to model their vulnerability to climate change.

The research will build on the work underway at the University of York in the Historical Ecology of East African Landscapes and York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics. The work is headed by Dr Paul Lane in the Department of Archaeology and Dr Rob Marchant, of the Environment Department respectively.

Dr Jon Lovett of York’s Environment Department said: "Traditional herders have recently become more vulnerable to drought and habitat loss — climate change poses an even greater threat. Our project will help local people to conserve biodiversity and so sustain their livelihoods."


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