Human-Environment interactions

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. This is especially true for the surrounding areas of the Greater Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem which belong to the fastest growing population densities of Africa. With increasing human population, also the livestock population is growing and together they increase the local pressure on the village lands. Now that also climate change is resulting in extreme droughts in the region (like in 2016) the people start to extract more and more resources from protected areas to overcome times of food scarcity, both for themselves and their livestock. At the same time, climate change also puts additional pressure on the survival of wild herbivores, where through changes in temperature and surface water availability. Overall, people in developing areas become more dependent on resources from protected areas (ecosystem services) and this can potentially harm the functioning of the ecosystem and impair the services provided by the ecosystem.


I aim to understand how people change the structure of the ecosystem in the boundary regions and their consequences for the functioning and stability of savanna ecosystems. Furthermore, I am interested to explore ways through which protected areas can provide services to people in a sustainable way. Last, I aim to create a better understanding of the effect of climate change on wildlife. Overall, I hope to be able to contribute to a situation where people and wildlife profit from each other instead in a sustainable way. I therefore investigate the following topics:

  1. Together with PhD student Emilian Kihwele we investigate the surface water dependence of wild herbivores in order to predict changes in herbivore community composition through changes in surface water availability (Kihwele et al. 2020). Such changes in surface water availability are expected to arise through a combination of changing rainfall patterns as well as changes in land-use upstream.

  2. I explore how different-sized herbivores are adapted to increased temperatures and whether they can tolerate or behaviorally adapt to such situation while at the same time coping with other constraints such as predation risk, food and water intake (Veldhuis et al. 2020).

  3. Together with PhD student Inger de Jonge we quantify the extend of grazing incursions into protected areas and the consequences for the structure of ecosystems.

  4. Together with PhD student Emilian Kihwele we investigate whether protected areas provide services to people living downstream through contributing to a stable year-round clean water flow as a result of increased infiltration rates in areas with intact vegetation.

  5. Together with PhD student Inger de Jonge we investigate whether wildlife and trees can increase the productivity in village lands in order to provide sufficient forage for livestock, especially in periods of general shortage.

  6. Together with PhD student Inger de Jonge we investigate the interactions between wildlife and livestock, both positive and negative and whether these interactions change from wet through dry season.

  7. We have recently quantified cross-boundary impacts of human population growth around the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem (Veldhuis et al. 2019).