Lessons on the relationship between livestock husbandry and biodiversity from the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE)
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Although livestock and wildlife share most of their ranges worldwide, little controlled experimental research has been done on their interactions. Since 1995 we have been manipulating the presence of cattle and large wild ungulates in a Kenyan savanna rangeland in order to better understand the nature of competition and coexistence between these two guilds of herbivores and how they affect biodiversity. In a replicated experiment in which different combinations of cattle and wild herbivores are allowed access to large-scale plots, we have been monitoring the impacts of these herbivores on vegetation, on the wild herbivores, and cattle themselves, and on a variety of other taxa. We have also been conducting experimental research to examine other ways in which livestock management in eastern Africa might affect biodiversity. These include studies on the impacts of fire, livestock corrals, and changes in tree density. This research has revealed the following patterns. (1) Cattle suppress many species of wild herbivores, presumably through competition for their shared resources. The nature of this competition, however, is contingent on rainfall and the presence of other herbivores. (2) Wild herbivores both compete with and facilitate cattle, depending on rainfall. (3) The pastoral practice of housing livestock nightly in protective corral enclosures (“bomas”) over time produces long-lived nutrient hotspots preferred by both livestock and wild herbivores. (4) Fire, frequently used by pastoralists in the past, is valuable for improving grass quality, with benefits for many species of wild herbivores. (5) Pastoral practices that reduce woody cover, including burning and boma construction, create local habitat patches that are preferred by wild herbivores, apparently for their greater anti-predator visibility. (6) Despite competition between livestock and wild herbivores, coexistence between these two guilds can be managed, and there are several positive (facilitative) pathways between livestock husbandry and wild herbivores and other biodiversity.