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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Natural pest and weed supression functions by birds as incentives to conserve a globally threatened bird species and enhance livelihoods in an agricultural landscape 

PI: Peter Njoroge (National Museums of Kenya)
U.S. Partner:  Matthew Johnson (Humboldt State University)
Project Dates: May 2012 - April 2015

Project Overview

Biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is now considered a part of the solution to problems in the food production sector. However, conservationists acknowledge that the goals of conservation can never be adequately achieved by means of nature reserves alone, because most biodiversity hotspots lie outside these reserves. New technical research that promotes the mutual relationship between agriculture and conservation is therefore needed. By investigating the interactions between agricultural systems and functional bird groups, this project works towards achieving this goal. It aims to promote land use systems that are managed both to produce food profitably and to protect critical ecosystem services.

  Morocco Partnership Photo A The project team collects data in the field (Photo courtesy Dr. Njoroge)

  Morocco Partnership Photo B  Inception workshop participants in a group photo (Photo courtesy Dr. Njoroge).
  Morocco Partnership Photo C 
 Members of the local Mukurweini Environmental Volunteers (MEVO) youth group conduct point counts for the project (Photo courtesy Dr. Njoroge).
Located in the central Kenya highlands, Mukurweini is a globally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA) within an intensively cultivated landscape. Using birds, the influence of landscape composition on occurrence of natural pest enemies and post-dispersal weed predators will be investigated in Mukurweini. This study will identify and promote the best landscape composition features that are suitable for enhancing the occurrence of functionally important birds (e.g., pest- and weed seed-eating) and will suggest incentives for the conservation of natural habitat for birds. Dr. Johnson, the U.S. collaborator on the project, will serve as the lead scientific coordinator for the exclosure experiments. He has extensive experience with bird exclosure experiments, including their design, deployment, data collection, analysis and interpretation. Apart from the clear benefits to the conservation of the globally threatened Hinde’s Babbler in the agricultural landscape, the anticipated outcomes of the project relate to food security in a rural setting and contribute to enhancing rural livelihoods. The researchers involved anticipate that the project will contribute positively to rural livelihoods by harnessing invaluable ecosystem services, including healthy soils, water conservation, and organic agriculture. In addition, by enhancing the growth of the Mukurweini Youth IBA site support group, the project will help boost the growth of bird watching tourism in Kenya.
Summary of Recent Activities
The team continued their research activities during the last quarter of 2013. Exclosure experiments to examine the effect of foraging birds on the post dispersal abundance of weed seeds were conducted, and are still ongoing. After the unsuccessful first trial with beans, experiments were conducted using both kale and beans. The team observed pest control by birds in the study farms, and ten bird species were identified. In November 2013 MSc student Edwin Gichohi began the field research phase after successfully defending his thesis proposal entitled “Influence of landscape composition features on the diversity of bird species found in Mukurweini-valleys, Kenya.” This study seeks to identify the species of birds in the agro- ecological landscape of the Mukurweini valleys and to describe the structure and function of the various habitat patches found in the valleys. U.S. partner Prof. Mathew Johnson and his four students made an exchange visit to Kenya. During their six-week visit they conducted research in shaded and unshaded coffee plantations around Nyeri to determine the pest control effect of birds in coffee plantations. During January 2014 the research team collected a third set of point count data within their three 5km x 5km sites. Exclosure experiments for both weeds and pests continue as scheduled. MSc student Edwin Gichohi will continue his fieldwork for at least the next four months. Preliminary data analyses will also commence in the next three to six months.

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