Sustainable Rangeland Monitoring and Management Program
In order to fully understand any ecosystem, you need to start from the grass roots upwards, literally. This particularly applies to the East African savanna rangelands, where understanding how pastoralists and wildlife together maintain the rich diversities and densities that they do is crucial to conservation. The South Rift Ecological Monitoring Program was started in 2007 in order to provide the baseline data on which key conservation management decisions could be made.
The area under continuous sampling is 1,000 km2, encompassing both Shompole and Olkiramatian group ranches. The western limit is the geographically imposed boundary of the western Rift Valley wall, with the eastern limit being Lake Magadi. The Northern limit is the northern group ranch boundary (due to permissions and logistics) and the Southern boundary in Lake Natron and the Tanzania border. This ‘ecosystem’ boundary is a product of both ecological and practical considerations, but some of the more external influences will need to be looked at scales beyond this. What it does incorporate are the main water sources (namely the Ewaso Ngiro river), and the crucial dry season habitat and refuge (the Shompole swamps) which are believed to be the key to the success of this ecosystem.
Much of the basis for the sampling design and methods used come from the Amboseli Research and Conservation Program, which began over 45 years ago, and thus for the most part are tried and tested methods for monitoring large mammal savanna systems. The aim was to design a sampling system that was appropriate both in time scale and spatial extent so as to capture the components of the ecosystem in an integrated, nested-hierarchical framework. This meant that the broader patterns would be captured at the largest spatial scales, and with the least frequency and the elements of the system which change with the most frequency will be captured on a more intensive spatial scale and, in most cases, more often.