Land-Use Intensification and Protected-Area Vulnerability in Africa's Albertine Rift

Tropical deforestation and degradation are major causes of global environmental change, with substantial projected impacts on biodiversity and world climate. Expanding agriculture and more extensive forms of land use lead to degradation and fragmentation of natural forest habitats, impacting flora and fauna and altering ecological processes. A changing climate may lead to additional impacts on forests and agricultural land, thereby inducing people to alter practices and engage is even more extensive land-use practices. The establishment of parks has been a major mechanism used to protect remaining tropical forest biodiversity, particularly in regions with high human densities. This juxtaposition of biodiversity preservation and land-use extensification in hotspots greatly challenges both the intentions of conservation infrastructure and efforts to alleviate poverty. Quantifying where these areas (hotter hotspots) occur on the landscape, and analyzing how local people perceive and respond to impacts is fundamental to understanding and facing this dual challenge. The exploratory research project will be framed around a single question: How and where has land use intensified around parks in the Albertine Rift of eastern Africa over time? To help answer this question, a multidisciplinary team of investigators will quantify the rate and extent of forest conversion surrounding seven Ugandan parks to identify patterns of land-use change and extensification as a function of climate, land use, and population change over the last decade. They will conduct their investigation at both a regional and local scale, incorporating household-level survey data to explore impacts of and responses to land-use change and extensification. Major project objectives are to quantify the extent and pattern of land-cover change; to quantify climate trajectory and variability; to identify risks and land-use strategies of local people; and to integrate and analyze the complex relationships among demographic changes on the landscape, household perceptions of forest use (including risks), objective measurements of those characteristics, and patterns of change.

The project will provide a quantitative assessment of extent and rate of Albertine Rift forest conversion and agricultural extensification as related to climate and population change. While conservation hotspots have been pinpointed at large scales, this project will improve their resolution and offer individual assessments of parks within a hotspot region. The project also will provide new insights regarding how dynamic landscape respond to human-related activities as local scales as well as how those changes relate to climate change and perceptions of risk, all of which are essential for developing frameworks of complex interactions for park-edge interfaces. The project will provide a strong foundation for interdisciplinary education and training for North American and Ugandan students, collaborators, and non-governmental organizations. Data will be made available to residents and stakeholders in the study region, and project results will assist conservation efforts. The collaborative ties and education promoted by this research will enhance the capacity of local governments, Makerere University, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

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