November 10, 2011

African Savanna Plot Joins the CTFS-SIGEO Network

On August 14th, 2011, tree mapping and tagging began at the Mpala forest dynamics plot in Kenya. The new plot is within the Mpala Research Centre and Wildlife Foundation. The 150-hectare plot is the first CTFS-SIGEO plot in Savanna vegetation, with an open tree canopy and grassy and herbaceous understory. The plot traverses two distinct soil types: black cotton soils at higher elevations, which are dominated by the “whistling thorn” acacia (A. drepanolobium), and red clay soils in lower terrain, with a diverse flora of including several other acacia species. 
Mpala plot researchers with CTFS Africa Program Coordinator David Kenfack (far right)
Despite being almost on the equator, the plot is 1,660 m above sea level and is consequently not as botanically diverse as many CTFS-SIGEO tropical forest plots.  The tree species diversity is estimated to be around 100 species. Some common species include: Acacia mellifera, Acacia nilotica, Acacia brevispica, Acacia xanthophloea, Acacia etbaica, Boscia angustifolia, Balanites aegyptiaca,  Balanites glabra, Maerua sp., Combretum molle, Mystroxylon sp., and Scutia myritina.

Although of moderate botanical diversity, the savanna has an exceptional diversity of wildlife, including: elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, hippos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyena, wild dogs, and many species of antelope. The herbivorous species have a huge impact on the plant community.  

Before the commencement of the work at Mpala, twelve staff took part in a one-week training session where they learned CTFS standard field protocols and data management techniques. The team has already encountered several new challenges associated with the Savanna ecosystem: many individual plants have multiple stems with low branching heights, many species have large, sharp thorns, and staff have to be alert, having to play hide and seek with the elephants and other wildlife during fieldwork! As of October 29, 2011, an area covering 13 ha had been mapped and tagged, and included seven species. As expected, tree density is low, with an average of 792 trees per hectare.

Staline Kibet and David Kenfack contributed to this post.