Mammal Populations Recover in Regenerating Forests in Kibale National Park, Uganda
Omeja, P., M.J. Lawes, A. Corriveau, K. Valenta, D. Sarkar, F.P. Paim, and C.A. Chapman. 2016. Recovery of the animal and plant communities across large scales in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Biotropica 48:770-779.
When members of our team first surveyed the southern section of what is now Kibale National Park, Uganda, it was abandoned agricultural fields mostly devoid of animals, with the exception of a few primates found along the remaining riverine forest. During what Ugandans call the politically troubled years the government had lost control of the south of the park and agriculturalists had moved in and cleared the forest for croplands. But by 1993 the agriculturalists were resettled. This seemed to be a great research opportunity to help conservation, so our team started surveying the recovery of these lands after different management plans to see how the plant community would respond and if and when the animals would return.
In general, tropical forests and the animals they support are disappearing fast. Today we find that many endangered species are only found in small forest fragments. For example, in China of the 22 primate species that could be assessed 15 had less than 3,000 individuals and that 81% of the populations of all Chinese primates were declining. This signals a wave of extinctions in the future if action is not taken, but what action.
We used standard line transect surveys, track counts, and camera traps to survey the mammal populations in different areas. We have monitored some areas routinely since 1995, others we started surveying in 2007, and finally some areas were monitored in 2014.
We found that the regenerating forest supported a substantial primate population and encounter rate (groups per km walked) in the regenerating sites was high compared to the neighboring old-growth forests. By monitoring elephant tracks for 10 yr, we demonstrated that elephant numbers increased steadily over time, but they increased dramatically since 2004. In general, the richness of the mammal community detected by sight, tracks, feces, and/or camera traps, was high in regenerating forests compared to that documented for the neighboring old-growth forest.
Our long-term research verifies that with effective management, control of hunting, and habitat protection, mammal populations can be very resilient and can recover from a variety of habitat disturbances. Since there is a tremendous amount of degraded land in the tropics and because our study points to the possibility that mammal populations can recover relatively rapidly, our research indicates that restoration offers a promising hope for recovery of many endangered animal species.
The PARTNERS connection
This study was invited as a contribution to the Special Issue of Biotropica on The Role of Natural Regeneration in Large-Scale Forest and Landscape Restoration: Challenge and Opportunity to include relevant research at the global scale. The Special Issue provided foundational literature to synthesize ecological and social research and case studies on the role that natural regeneration can and should play in large-scale restoration initiatives in the tropics.