Kilimanjaro in the midst of global change: new University of Bayreuth research project
To analyse the interactions between man and nature in the area around Mount Kilimanjaro, and to understand them as part of a comprehensive social-ecological system, that is the goal of the new „Kili-SES” research network. A botanical sub-project of the University of Bayreuth headed by Dr. Andreas Hemp will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) over the next four years to the tune of some € 700,000. A total of fifteen universities and research institutes in Germany, Switzerland and Tanzania are involved in the network, coordinated by the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt am Main.
Environmental change and ecosystem services
The project focuses on the question of how nature – in interaction with social and economic conditions – influences the living circumstances of people in the Kilimanjaro region. Crucial factors here are biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides, such as clean drinking water and fertile soils. These are being diminished by climate change and, as a result of population growth, also by intensifying land use.
„In the new project, we are seeking to map out, in their overall context, the natural, social, and economic factors that shape the living conditions of the people in the Kilimanjaro region. We hope to describe their interrelations more precisely than in the research to date. For example, we will examine the nutrients in the soil, the diversity of species, and especially those species that have only recently become native to Kilimanjaro as a result of globalization. So-called bioindicators will also play an important role. These are plants and animals that are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment like extended periods of drought, major temperature fluctuations, and pollutants in the air and water. In previous studies, these organisms have already shown evidence of considerable environmental change,“ says Andreas Hemp.
Research stations on the ground
The Bayreuth biologist has been researching the flora of Africa’s highest mountain together with partners in Germany, Kenya, and Tanzania for more than 30 years. From 2010 to 2019, he headed the „KiLi” DFG research group in Africa, which for the first time studied the ecosystems of Kilimanjaro on 65 research plots in locations ranging from the savannah to the summit region. As part of the new project, Hemp will also spend several months researching at two scientific stations on the southern slope, together with coordinator Dr. Claudia Hemp of the Senckenberg Institute, who is responsible for African personnel and infrastructure at the research stations. As in previous years, a team of young African researchers is involved in the project.
The aim: prognoses on living conditions during climate change
In order to determine recent effects of climate change on the vegetation of Kilimanjaro, previous measurements will be replicated and expanded upon. This includes, for example, the number of species in a given area, the biomass produced annually, the amount of dead wood, and the fog interception. The data thus obtained will be evaluated with regard to interdependence, and extrapolated to the entire mountain. At the same time, Hemp and his team will compare these findings with further statistical surveys. These concern population growth, state control structures, the use of natural resources by the agriculture and forestry sectors, and economic development in the region. This will provide a multifaceted picture of the entire socio-ecological system of Kilimanjaro. „On this basis, we will be able to estimate reliably how ecosystem services will change over the course of climate and land use change. From this, in turn, it will be possible to derive forecasts telling us what consequences these developments will have for the well-being of people in the medium and long term,“ says Hemp.
A focus of research: Kilimanjaro National Park
A particular focus of the research work is Kilimanjaro National Park itself, which covers an area of around 1,700 square kilometres, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers a range of altitude from 1,800 metres above sea level to the 5,895-metre-high peak of Kibo, the main summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. As in 2001, the Bayreuth researcher’s team intends to fly over the entire area and comprehensively map current forest damage. In addition to illegal activities such as logging, charcoal burning, and forest grazing, they are seeking to identify areas at risk of landslide and forest fire. This will provide invaluable information for the further development of the National Park and its use for tourism, from which other national parks in East Africa also stand to benefit.
PD Dr. Andreas Hemp
University of Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-2464