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
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.
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 over the summer and early fall of 2013. Exclosure experiments to examine the effect of foraging birds on the post dispersal of weed seeds were conducted and are still ongoing. Eighteen experimental 1m x 1m wire mesh exclosures were set up and were monitored daily; weed seeds were counted periodically followed by land preparation and then repeat experiments. Exclosure experiments were also conducted to examine the effect of foraging birds on bean pest quantities. The team has continued their experiments despite encountering some challenges due to wild birds eating bean foliage, and kale is being considered as an alternative for further experiments. An undergraduate student, Mr. Gichohi, is contributing to the project by analyzing the influence of landscape composition features on the occurrence of functionally important birds in Kenya’s Mukurweini valleys and will commence his field work prior to the end of January 2014. During the last quarter of 2013, the team will collect a third set of point count data within their three 5km x 5km sites to bring the total to 450 point counts overall. Exclosure experiments for weeds and pests will continue as scheduled, and the preliminary data analysis will commence within the next three to six months once enough data have been collected. U.S. partner Dr. Matthew Johnson and two of his students are planning to visit the site in December 2013 to conduct research work in coffee farms around Mukurweini.
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