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African Sky Forests: services, threats and management recommendations

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AFRI-SKYFOR (African Sky Forests: services, threats and management recommendations)

Période du rapport: 2017-08-01 au 2019-07-31

Tropical montane forests (TMF) are biodiversity rich and unique ecosystems which provide water to tens of millions of people, among other services such as firewood, medicinal plants, hazard prevention, climate modulation and carbon sequestration. However, TMF remains understudied and over-exploited, particularly in Africa. Predicted climatic changes and trends in population growth will negatively affect the ecological functioning and ecosystem service delivery of these already fragile ecosystems. Therefore, there is an urgent need to better understand these ecosystems and use that information to inform management. AFRI-SKYFOR, focused on TMF in Africa, will provide new information key for understanding and improving the management of these ecosystems. I will combine data on multiple ecosystem services (e.g. water, medicinal plants, carbon), ecosystem threat, environmental and socio-economic data, modelling and novel state-of-the-art methodologies (such as socio-ecological ecosystem modelling using Bayesian statistics) from the fields of ecology, conservation science and ecosystem valuation to (1) identify and prioritize the ecosystem services generated by African TMF; (2) assess current and future threat presence and severity to these ecosystems; (3) create a model of the socio-ecological functioning of African TMF and simulate potential future scenarios; and (4) develop management recommendations for future sustainability.
AFRI-SKYFOR is a highly interdisciplinary project which will generate information of wide relevance for the sustainable use of natural resources in African mountains. The high scientific quality and applicability proposed will benefit the EU not only by generating new knowledge and publications in high-profile scientific journals which will contribute to the enhancement of EU scientific excellence, but also by contributing to EU commitments within International treaties such as the Aichi Biodiversity targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The four principal objectives of the project AFRISKYFOR are:
1. Identify and prioritize the ecosystem services generated by African TMF
2. Create an overview of current and future threats to these ecosystems and their severity
3. Create a model of the socio-ecological functioning of African TMF, and use it to investigate potential future scenarios
4. Develop and disseminate possible management recommendations which promote sustainable resource provision

Objective1 and 2 are nearly completed, objective 3 is ongoing and objective 4 has not started yet (which is in agreement with our proposed plan). For the first objective, data gathering and data analysis has been completed. In total 75 experts responded to an online survey, 25 focus-group discussions (FGDs) were carried out in DRC, and 20 FGDs in Cameroon. Data from field campaigns has been used to write two publications, recently accepted (in press) in two journals: Human Ecology and Ecosystem Services. With regard to the second objective, data analysis is still ongoing. The applicant, together with advisors, decided to combine this analysis with the expert survey to have a stronger publication. For the third objective, an agent-based model (ABM) for Mt Oku in Cameroon has been created using data from a field campaign. Data has been recently gathered in DRC (July-August 2019) to help adapt this model to the DRC context.

The participant has completed scientific training objectives (STO) 1-3 of 4 in the proposal. She learned and implemented semi-quantitative techniques for assessing ecosystem services (STO1) and she improved her knowledge on the analysis threats (STO2) thanks to the collaboration with Prof Klein and Prof Burgess. She followed a course on ABM with Prof Boone at CSU (Spring 2019), and she also learned about Bayesian Modelling using Netica Software (STO3) with Prof Klein during her stay at CSU. STO4 have not stated yet, as it was initially planned.

The applicant has already improved her management and leadership skills (complementary training objective CTO1), her teaching and student supervision (CTO2) her Research collaboration in large networks (CTO3).

The most significant findings of the AFRISKYFOR project so far are as follows:

Objective 1: Ecosystem service valuing significantly differs between sites and ethnic groups in both Cameroon and DRC, which is of key importance to decision-makers, as restricted access and regulated extraction of products affects locals’ peoples differently. Our findings also highlight the great value local communities place to their forests, who acknowledge not only provisioning but also regulating services and the aesthetic value of these forests. Ecosystem service valuing also significantly differs between local communities and experts, which is of key importance when designing management interventions at the site level. Preliminary findings on carbon stocks highlight the importance of these forests as carbon sinks (or source if deforested) and the effects that disturbance has had in some monition forests.

Objective 2: Some threats affect most African TMF (e.g. clearing land for agriculture, climatic changes) while others are site-specific (e.g. illegal mining in DRC). Experts’ views generally agree with reported trends at the site level. Results also show that the overlap between existing protected areas and TMF is not sufficient, and that other forms of protection are urgently needed, e.g. community forest management.

Objective 3: Mt Oku ABM model suggests that even in a drier future, increasing forest protection is likely to improve local peoples’ livelihoods especially for poorer households. Therefore, it is of crucial importance to preserve the remaining forest so that it can help the poorer households adapt to the effects of predicted changes in climate (more droughts, lower crop yields).
In terms of publications, the expected results until the end of the project are (all in preparation):
D1+D2: Comparative analysis of ecosystem services and threats of African TMF
D3: Modelling socio-ecological African mountain ecosystems using ABM
D4: Improved management interventions in African TMF (publication and non-academic report for decision-makers).

With regard to dissemination of skills acquired during her outgoing phase, the applicant will be teaching these to students at UoY (as a guest lecturer in one of Prof Marchant courses and as a 1-day course for postgraduate students at the department). She envisages that one Masters student will apply them in 2020 for his/her project under her co-supervision. She will also disseminate these skills to African students while being a voluntary guest lecturer at the Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum-2 (Rwanda, September 2019, see http://biodiversity-informatics-training.org ), which will produce video materials freely available online. A preliminary version of the non-academic report (D4) will be shared with relevant policymakers attending this course. During a short 10-day trip to Kenya in Spring 2020, the applicant will also disseminate the non-academic report to UNEP, World Agroforestry Centre (WAC), CGIAR, ICRAF and Water Towers Agency. Apart from that, she will use MRI and Mountain Sentinels online networks, and ATBC 2020 to disseminate this non-academic report, and project findings in general.
Field team in Itombwe Mountains, DRC