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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 Dates: May 2018 - October 2019

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.

Summary of Recent Activities

In this project period, students working on the project were received by the PI and assigned themes to work on. One theme focuses on "Growth monitoring of some wood energy species in the experimental sites of the PEER project in the territory of Tabou, circle of Kati and Faradielé, Bougouni circle." The other theme is "Characterization of the initial state of woody vegetation in the experimental site of the PEER project in the Kita circle." For each student related to the theme, the PI elaborated a study protocol, which is a detailed plan for the students' dissertations, including (1) the problem focus for the theme, (2) definition of the study area, (3) methodological approach for field data collection, (4) data processing and analysis, (5) presentation of results, and (6) conclusion and perspectives. Each student was provided with the reports of the papers made in the laboratory for the bibliographic review.

The project team conducted a field visit during which they conducted a survey to select the trial site. After selecting the site, they delineated the location of the experimental device and installed the fence surrounding the four fire treatments (Early Fire, Middle Fire, Late Fire, and No Fire). The experimental device is a mono factorial device, and the only factor studied is the land management mode comprising 8 treatments with 3 repetitions each, i.e., 24 unit plots. Each unit parcel covers an area of 20 m2. In each unit parcel, the researchers carried out a floristic inventory of ligneous species to determine the initial state of the biodiversity of the ligneous trees and to see how the 8 treatments will influence this diversity over time. They also carried out a dendrometric inventory to determine the initial state of density, structure, and wood production expressed in volume of wood in the site. In time they will observe how the 8 treatments will act differently on all these parameters of woody vegetation in the Kita site. After a few years of experience, the results will inform them about the best treatments to be distributed in order to better manage the wood resources by the rural populations for the satisfaction of their need of wood energy, timber, and agro-forestry species.

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