Recent papyrus swamp habitat loss and conservation implications in western Kenya

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Abstract

Papyrus Cyperus papyrus swamps are characteristic of many wetlands of tropical Africa. Like most wetland habitats worldwide, they are under human pressure due to harvesting and reclamation for agriculture. Changes in papyrus cover were assessed using aerial photographs at three Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Kenyan sector of Lake Victoria. Papyrus area losses of 50% (Dunga), 47% (Koguta) and 34% (Kusa) occurred between 1969 and 2000. The habitat loss and degradation at the sites appeared purposeful, driven by demand for agricultural land and other papyrus products. Cleared papyrus and cultivated areas around all sites increased over the same period. If papyrus habitat loss continues at current rates, papyrus swamps at Dunga and Koguta will disappear by 2020, and Kusa will be reduced to only 19% of its 1969 area. Human population growth around the sites, with concomitant increase in land use activities and papyrus harvesting are the major factors that account for papyrus area reductions. Loss of total habitat is accompanied by deterioration in habitat quality within remaining areas. Papyrus physical structure (height and density) inversely correlate to human disturbances that include footpaths, cutting, burning, grazing and farming. The continued papyrus habitat loss and degradation represents a significant threat to biodiversity conservation particularly for papyrus-specialist birds and other papyrus-reliant species in western Kenya. The observed pattern of papyrus extents and land use changes at all sites provide the site-scale information necessary for papyrus conservation planning. In particular, conservation action is needed most urgently at Dunga and Koguta as they face severe land use pressures.

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