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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Remote sensing and GIS mapping for land use changes in Laikipia ecosystem, Kenya: a tool to explore patterns of biodiversity and emergence of vector-borne zoonoses and enhance environmental management and community health

PI: Nancy Moinde (, Institute of Primate Research-National Museums of Kenya
U.S. Partner: Peter Leimbruger, Smithsonian Institution
Project Dates: November 2016-November 2019

Project Overview:

Laikipia County in central Kenya supports one of the highest levels of mammalian diversity in East Africa. The semi-arid environment is changing rapidly due to land use changes, and climatic changes are projected to alter ecosystem resilience. These anthropogenic changes can alter the dynamics of zoonotic infectious diseases in wooded and bushland fringes of semi-arid ecosystems. Vector-borne diseases carried by vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and sand flies are known for their rapid response to environmental modifications and climate change. In this project, the team will focus on the interrelationships between climate change, land use patterns and their impacts on large mammal distribution, and disease vector diversity. They will also study how these in turn influence human adaptation and ecosystem resilience to ecological change. Specifically, they will use the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR)-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to examine the relationship between inter-annual NDVI parameters and species richness of large mammals and ticks and sand flies as disease vectors. They will also examine primary productivity of current land use systems within current climate patterns and its relationship to mammals and vegetation cover. Lastly, they will examine variation in host feeding preferences of zoophilic mosquitoes, sand flies, and ticks from different land use systems and climatic zones of Laikipia.

The use of remote sensed data to represent environmental factors influencing species richness in different ecosystems in Laikipia will provide valuable knowledge on the spatial variability of species richness and ecological resilience of different land use systems. Together with disease vector sampling and molecular analysis of vector feeding preferences, this project will also address vector-borne disease dynamics in Laikipia.

Summary of Recent Activities

In October 2017 a community leader’s buy-in workshop was held at Impala Ranch at Laikipia. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that the community leaders understand what the project is all about, the importance to their communities and the uptake of the research findings at the end of the project. This was accomplished through presentations by co-investigators on different aspects of the project followed by question and discussion session. A total 22 people from 7 local communities took part in the community Leader buy in meeting and 5 of them were ladies. There was a lot of interests from community leaders on climate predictions and issues to do with climate change. The communities promised to work together and requested for any feedback from these study as the findings will have implications for their adaptation to climate change.

A Kenyan PhD Student, Harry Wells, from the University of Leeds was selected by the PEER team coordinators to carryout the NDVI spatial analysis that will contribute to the projects objectives and his PhD studies. His training is projected to take place in April 2018 at the Smithsonian Institute at Washington DC, under the supervision of this projects USG partner in Dr Peter Leimgruber's lab. Harry Wells, training objectives are to carry out the NDVI spatial analysis in order to meet the PEER project goals as well has his own PhD studies goals. A nomination letter from the PI and an invitation letter from the projects collaborating partners, Dr Peter Leimbruger, from the Smithsonian Institute have already been issued and Harry's travel arrangement for training at the Smithsonian are already underway. Harry's training is scheduled to take place at the Smithsonian Biology Conservation Institute in Dr. Leimbruger's laboratory from 1st April-1st September 2018.

The sampling of small mammals and ticks for zoonotic vector-borne pathogens is ongoing through the quarter. This objective is headed by a PhD trainee and an MSc student with the aim of analyzing various tickborne pathogens as part of their field work for their postgraduate training. Data generated so far demonstrate that different species of small mammals in Laikipia are hosts to a variety of tick species which are important carriers of zoonotic pathogens.

The climate data available from the Kenya Meteorological Department is rather poorly distributed spatially and therefore the project has forged and MoU with the Eco-Hydrology Project which has collected and archived climate data from Laikipia. The MoU between our project and the eco-hydrology project indicated that collaborations will be conducted through co-authorships and full acknowledgement of the dataset in any of our research papers resulting from analyses that uses this dataset. 

Since the draft household questionnaire for gathering climate change related data and information from the community was tested on Laikipia on October 2017, more changes have been incorporated as a result to incorporate site specific aspects and constructive modifications based from the the respondents contributions from the field exercise. The latest draft was adjusted to include these modification and is currently going over the final scrutiny for any last additional comments and edits as the research team members are currently reviewing this final draft. The project's small mammal survey is scheduled to take part in March and therefore they ordered 120 Sherman traps from the United States through the PEER project funds in order to meet this goal.

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