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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Improving parkland management and agriculture using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology in Mali

PI: Fadiala Dembele,, Rural Polytechnic Institute of Training and Applied Research of Katibougou
U.S. Partner: Paul Laris, California State University, Long Beach

Project Overview:

This research will integrate new theories of disequilibrium ecology and human land use practices to develop a human-ecological model of savanna dynamics. In particular, the study will integrate anthropogenic disturbance regimes and disequilibrium ecology principles to determine their impacts on tree establishment and growth. Answers to these questions have clear implications for tree cover, carbon sequestration, and human livelihoods, especially for women, who most often gather, utilize, and sell valued tree products. This study will provide valuable baseline data on tree phenology for an understudied part of the world and will address questions pertaining to the basic science of savanna ecology by answering fundamental questions about competition between grasses and trees at different life-cycle phases. This project will advance human ecology by integrating it with disequilibrium savanna ecological theory to quantify how particular human activities affect plant distributions and vegetation characteristics. It will produce spatially and temporally explicit evidence of landscape change, and clarify processes through which human activities have affected vegetation characteristics. This study will advance biogeography by clarifying how socioeconomic and biophysical factors contribute to range expansion for tropical tree species. Finally, this research will suggest practical strategies to conserve and enhance parkland vegetation, based on the relationships between indigenous management practices and vegetation diversity. Natural resource management laws in West Africa often emphasize prohibiting particular activities even though the basis for such prohibitions are poorly grounded in scientific or local knowledge of ecological processes. By identifying processes that contribute to parkland development, this project will improve management of renewable resources, biodiversity, and sequestered carbon.

Highly valued native trees in Mali are rarely planted, rather they propagate quasi-naturally, often on agricultural, fallow, and open savanna lands; nevertheless, the Malian landscape is defined by its productive agroforestry parklands. This study will determine the conditions under which specific highly values tree species establish, escape fire and browsing, establish, and mature. Woodlands in Mali are under increasing pressure as they provide numerous resources for the rural (and urban) populations. Trees not only are used as the primary source of energy for Mali (fuel-wood and charcoal) but they provide food and cash opportunities, as well as fodder for a growing animal husbandry industry. The well-known shea butter market is only one example of a specific tree that provides high economic benefits. Surprisingly, very little is known about other highly valued native tree species. This study will provide this basic information for at least ten highly valued tree species, which will lead to improved land management practices resulting in increased tree survival and growth rates and thus increased resiliency of rural populations who tend to rely heavily on native plants during times of drought and/or poor agricultural harvests. Moreover, the study will provide scientific data on the potential to develop a native tree crop industry, which has, to date, been poorly developed due to a lack of basic knowledge on native trees. Finally, the study will broaden opportunities for the African university students and researchers. It will train a team of Malian foresters and faculty to use UAVs to gather environmental data. The researchers will introduce the use of UAVs as an inexpensive means to gather remotely sensed data on vegetation cover and ecosystem health at the village landscape scale.

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