Effects of human-livestock-wildlife interactions on habitat in an eastern Kenya rangeland

Human–livestock–wildlife interactions have increased in Kenyan rangelands in recent years, but few attempts have been made to evaluate their impact on the rangeland habitat. This study identified drivers of increased human–livestock–wildlife interactions in the Meru Conservation Area between 1980 and 2000 and their effects on the vegetation community structure. The drivers were habitat fragmentation, decline in pastoral grazing range, loss of wildlife dispersal areas and increase in livestock population density. Agricultural encroachment increased by over 76% in the western zone adjoining Nyambene ranges and the southern Tharaka area, substantially reducing the pastoral grazing range and wildlife dispersal areas. Livestock population increased by 41%, subjecting areas left for pastoral grazing in the northern dispersal area to prolonged heavy grazing that gave woody plant species a competitive edge over herbaceous life-forms. Consequently, open wooded grassland, which was the dominant vegetation community in 1980, decreased by c. 40% as bushland vegetation increased by 42%. A substantial proportion of agro pastoralists were encountered around Kinna and Rapsu, areas that were predominantly occupied by pastoralists three decades ago, indicating a possible shift in land use in order to spread risks associated with habitat alterations.