CNH: Exploring Social, Ecological, and Hydrological Regime Shifts in the Logone Floodplain of Cameroon

This interdisciplinary research project will focus on the impact of human activities and climate change on African floodplains. African floodplains are an excellent example of coupled human-natural systems because they exhibit strong interactions among multiple social, ecological, and hydrological systems. The intra-annual and inter-annual variations in the area, depth, and duration of seasonal flooding have direct and indirect impacts on ecosystems and human lives and livelihoods. The researchers will develop an integrated computer model that simulates the dynamic couplings among social, ecological and hydrological systems of the Logone floodplain in Cameroon. The model will allow them to simulate the impacts of climate change scenarios and human modifications of the landscape on the social, ecological, and hydrological systems. Fishermen in the Logone floodplain have been modifying the floodplain's hydrology by constructing thousands of individually owned fish canals. The cumulative effect of these canals may equal the impact of large-scale dams. The devastating impact of large-scale dams on African floodplains has been well documented, but what is less clear is how smaller, slower changes like the fish canals may result in regime shifts that have equally disastrous consequences. If the floodplain is characterized by critical transitions, the gradual increase in fish canals may result in a sudden and catastrophic transition equivalent to the impact of large-scale dams. The integrated computer model will enable researchers to examine the nature of the regime shift. The project brings together a team of researchers from a broad range of disciplines and will use a transdisciplinary approach to investigate coupled human and natural systems using a combination of field research, remote sensing analysis, and modeling.

The project will contribute to the sustainable management of African floodplains, which are of enormous ecological and economic importance, by developing an integrated computer model that will permit stakeholders to evaluate the impact of different human activities and climate change scenarios. The project will educate and train graduate and undergraduate students at the Ohio State University and at Maroua University in Cameroon in quantitative and qualitative, transdisciplinary approaches to the study and management of coupled human and natural systems. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program and the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering.