Most of Africa’s wildlife lives outside of national parks and reserves, on a land that they share with livestock. The Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE) was established in 1995 by Dr. Truman Young of the University of California at Davis to study the interactions between wildlife and cattle and the resulting impact on the ecosystem. The KLEE experiment consists of 18 four-hectare plots in three replicate blocks. In each block, we use different semi-permeable barriers to exclude six combinations of cattle, wildlife, and mega-herbivores (elephants and giraffes).
Fundamentally, KLEE asks;
- How do different rangeland use regimes impact the ecosystem?
- What happens when different wildlife and livestock species are lost from the ecosystem?
Using KLEE, we have been able to unravel complex and fascinating relationships between livestock and wildlife within the myriad of biodiversity in Laikipia. In particular, we are revealing that interactions between livestock and wildlife are not uniformly negative, they include many positive feedbacks. For example, although cattle and wildlife do compete during the dry periods, both cattle and wildlife can benefit from each other’s presence during wet periods. Additionally, the removal of either cattle or wildlife leads to large increases in the population of rodents, along with their disease vectors (ticks and fleas) and many human and livestock pathogens. Surprisingly, elephants appear to reduce many of the negative effects of cattle on wildlife and soil properties, in part by reducing forage uptake by cattle. Our research was the first to demonstrate how abandoned cattle corrals produce long-lived ecosystem “hotspots” of increased quality and productivity of forage. This knowledge is changing livestock management in Laikipia by contributing to greater controlled grazing and restoration of degraded habitat patches.
For the future of KLEE, we will address stability and resilience of ecological systems, and the strong context dependence of ecological responses. We want to understand:
- How does the stability/resilience of this savanna ecosystem change under multiple experiments and natural stressors over multiple decades?
- Is there a discernable structure underlying the interactions among these multiple ecosystem responses to multiple stressors?
Understanding both the long-term and short-term responses of ecosystems to multiple “stressors” is critical to predicting and preparing for future ecological conditions and current management decisions. Our multi-layered experimental design, carried out over a long and ecologically relevant time scale, can illustrate new patterns and processes in ecological resilience. Additionally, our unique combination of multiple stressors and multiple response variables can give insights into the mutually reinforcing mechanisms underlying ecosystem stability and resilience.
KLEE includes many Kenyan and U.S. collaborators such as Drs. Kari Veblen, Wilfred Odadi, Duncan Kimuyu, Corinna Riginos, Lauren Porensky, Lauren Hallet, Amy Wolf, and Ryan Sensenig. Our research assistants, Mathew Namoni, Jackson Ekadeli, Julius Lengais, Fredrick Errii, and John Lochkuya, have contributed immensely to the success of this project. Over the years, 30 masters and PhD theses have been written from research conducted in KLEE. With nearly 200 peer-reviewed and outreach publications, KLEE has become the most successful research study ever carried out in Africa
Universities and Organizations: University of California-Davis, Karatina University, Egerton University, Utah State University, University of Texas, University of Notre Dame
Primary Investigators: Dr. Truman Young (University of California-Davis), Dr. Duncan Kimuyu (Karatina University), Dr. Wilfred Odadi (Egerton University), Dr. Kari Veblen (Utah State University), Dr. Amy Wolf (University of Texas)
Project Director: Dr. Duncan Kimuyu