Ecosystem stability

Developing regions of the world face major challenges, with the steep increase in human population density as a main driver with consequent land-use conversion and associated over-exploitation of natural resources. In addition, more unpredictable and extreme weather conditions that result from human-accelerated climate change put additional pressure on ecosystems and the services they provide. It is therefore critical to understand the drivers of ecosystem stability to protect resources and conserve wildlife and, more importantly, ensure its stability given the predicted changes in climate and land use.
Major research efforts during the last two decades have derived indicators of ecosystem stability from satellite imagery through analysis of spatial vegetation patterns and time series of vegetation indices. Ground-truthing and empirically testing the assumptions and predictions and further development of these indicators is now needed to be able to accurately inform resource managers and politicians. Subsequently, it is of key importance to provide tools to restore the environmental stability of ecosystems once impaired. It is well-known that several agents exert strong impact on ecosystem functioning, like herbivores, fire, trees and termites. They can strongly change local conditions and even override major environmental gradients and have been predicted to affect ecological stability. But how these factors increase or decrease the stability of ecosystems has received much less attention.


I aim to better understand the drivers of ecological stability in African savannas in order to provide region-specific recommendations and tools for resource managers and politicians. Therefore, I study the following topics:

  1. I analyze ecosystem stability of the Greater Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem using remote-sensing techniques to identify areas of high and low stability.

  2. Together with our PhD student Inger de Jonge we quantify the resilience and resistance of Maasai village lands and compare this to protected areas. We aim to improve the long-term stability of these village lands through understanding the drivers of ecological stability.

  3. Together with our PhD student Emilian Kihwele we investigate how land-use changes affect river flow in and around the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem. Our aim is to find out which land use types contribute most to a sustained water flow full year round in order to provide drinking water to people and wildlife.