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Use of Acacia by Maasai nomadic herders of southern Kenya during drought, and its ecosystem-level consequences.

This collection of twelve photographs illustrates how the Maasai use Acacia during prolonged drought, and the impacts of that use on long-term ecosystem processes. The Maasai are the largest group of nomadic livestock herders in eastern Africa. They greatly contribute to Kenya's beef industry, and cattle are their most important livestock. The Masai live in savanna ecosystems having well-defined rainy- and dry-seasons. To overcome periodic drought, they migrate with their livestock to exploit the seasonal peaks of productivity in different parts of the region. This strategy allows them to optimize the use of pastures and water across the drylands.

During prolonged droughts, the Maasai make special use of scrubby trees belonging to the genus Acacia. Plants of that genus are typically hardy, with vertical roots that allow plants to access deep aquifers and survive drought. Acacia pods and leaves provide fodder for both domestic (mainly goats) and wild animals. In times of prolonged droughts, such as in 2005, cattle are often decimated, while goats survive. In years when severe drought causes high rates of livestock mortality, some Maasai engage in charcoal and fuel-wood trade. Although this trade provides short-term income in times of drought, it also promotes deforestation. Occurrences of droughts coupled with deforestation drought may intensify incidences of wildfires, trigger a shift in vegetation cover, and often lead to erosion of soils and streams channels.

Charcoal is mainly made from specific Acacia species, particularly the less-ash-producing species, Acacia tortilis (umbrella thorn). In turn, overharvesting of that species promotes encroachment of unpalatable plants and invasives as well as loss of vegetation cover. Encroachment of trees and shrubs, especially the drought tolerant invasives, may undermine establishment of grass even as rainfall returns thereby contributing to lack of food for the grazers and intensifying the harmful impacts of the next drought.

A descriptions of each individual photograph can be found in the slide comments.
Associated files
Special Collection
Primary or BEN resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords Drought adaptation
Key taxa Acacia
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Category
Pedagogical Use Description These images would be useful in classroom presentations and lectures, particularly with regard to Africa, drought, drought adaptation of an indigenous community, decision-making regarding natural resource use and trade-offs, or the Maasai animal herders.
Uniqueness The photo collection depicts a unique geographic setting and in use by indigenous people under the threat of drought.
Aggregation Level
Full Name of Primary Author Margaret Mwangi
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Pennsylvania State University
Primary Author email
Added By Id
  • testuser
Rights Author retains copyright.
Review type
Drought and Water Ecosystem Services Collection On
Conservation Targets Under Global Change Collection Off
Big Data Collection Off
Editors Choice No
Resource Status
Date Of Record Submission 2009-11-09
I Agree to EcoEdDL's Copyright Policy & Terms of Use No
Date Of Record Release 2009-12-03 02:10:33
Last Modified By Id
  • tmourad
Date Last Modified 2018-11-28 06:50:39
Release Flag Published

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