Vegetation changes in Mara North

Climatic and anthropogenic induced vegetation changes in Mara North from 1972 to 2015

As part of the research area based on remote sensing led by Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, a study on vegetation changes is currently being carried out in the Mara North Conservancy ( by stud. MSc. Jeppe Pilgaard, Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Aarhus University.

The study aims to understand how climatic and anthropogenic factors affect the general condition of the vegetation in Mara North. The area has underwent immense changes during the last decades, caused by e.g. an indirect effect of a vast growth in the local population, the Masaai. In the Masaai culture, wealth is measured in livestock. Due to the increased population and an increase in the overall wealth in the local community, the amount of livestock is growing massively. The livestock and the wildlife are sharing the same food source, leading to an excessive grazing pressure of the savannah. Adding to this tendency is the ongoing global climate changes, which e.g. causes prolonged times of draught, substantially reducing the regenerative capability of the vegetation.

Vegetation coverage and other characteristics can be monitored by the use of satellite imagery, as described in the main description of the research based on remote sensing.

Remote sensing needs to be validated through ground truth. In order to designate a certain appearance in the satellite imagery to specific vegetation characteristics, a number of random sample points is currently being described in situ. Sampling involves estimation of e.g. vegetation coverage, type, and height, and are to be extrapolated throughout the entire sample area.

By comparing images captured at different wavelengths, it is possible to estimate the plant primary production, since only specific wavelengths of light are being absorbed for photosynthesis. The imagery is being updated every 16th day making it possible to assess the development at small scale. Thus, incidents of extreme weather or establishment of new conservation methods launched by MNC could be reflected and evaluated in the roughly biweekly updates.        

The outcome of this study are to be used in development of ongoing and future conservation efforts in Mara North Conservancy and can hopefully be extended to other parts of Africa undergoing similar complications, thereby establishing a better coexistence of local communities, their livestock, and the wildlife.

The project is supervised by Professor Jens-Christian Svenning and GIS Coordinator Peder Klith Bøcher, Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Aarhus University.