Human Livelihoods and Sustainable Conservation: Herbivory and Anthropogenic Impacts on Woody Vegetation and Ecosystem Goods in Save Valley, Southeastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe.
The response of woody vegetation dynamics to human and herbivory disturbances across land use categories (communal lands of Mutema-Musiakavanhu, buffer zone and Save Valley Conservancy (SVC)) were assessed in Save Valley, southeastern lowveld of Zimbabwe. Disturbance regimes, such as excessive herbivory and anthropogenic activities in the study area likely influence state-and-transition dynamics in woodland ecosystems. A stratified random design was used with the study strata divided based on three defined land use categories, where data was collected from November 2016 to December 2017. The study employed mixed methods approach including household questionnaire survey (n = 400), key informant interviews (n = 20) and focus group discussions (n = 80) to collect data on anthropogenic activities based on woodland resource utilization and the impact of human-wildlife conflicts. To measure woody vegetation attributes, herbivory and human disturbances, a total of 45 plots measuring 50 m x 20 m were assessed with 15 plots randomly placed in each of the three defined study strata. Specifically, changes occurring in land use and land cover were determined based on random land classification of LANDSAT images (1990 to 2015) and ancillary data. This study further used the Markov-cellular automata model to predict the land use and land cover changes across SVC for the period 2020 to 2040. Descriptive statistics and content analysis were used to analyze quantitative and qualitative data, respectively. In communal lands, a combination of agricultural land expansion, harvesting for firewood, timber and livestock grazing have modified the status of woody vegetation. The study recorded that woodlands contributed a range of 0.04% to 12.82% to the global annual income (GAI) of about US$1600 per household based on user rights discrimination around the woodland resources. However, the majority of farmers (86%, n = 258) had incurred annual economic loss of about US$800 per household due to human-wildlife conflicts as wild animals raid crops and prey on livestock. Furthermore, the study results recorded significant differences on the status of woody vegetation across the three defined land use categories. The human and herbivory disturbances decreased in intensity within the buffer zone with maximum species diversity of woody plants, thus confirming to the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Model simulations predicted that by the 2040s, woodland and grassland cover in SVC will decrease by 46.73% and 10.54%, respectively, with at least over 6, 000% expansion of agricultural land use and bare land cover as compared to the 1990 land use and land cover categories. It was concluded that, human and herbivory induced disturbances were the main drivers of consistent woody vegetation dynamics across the study area. The study also revealed that both formal and informal institutions in the study area do not adequately implement policy pronouncements related to sustainable woodland management as they focus more on agricultural land use management and socio-economic use of woodland resources for human livelihood. It was recommendedthat Zimbabwe should consider aligning its woodland management policies and legislation with the Zimbabwe’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP, 2013-2020) so as to ensure national commitment with funding for government extension service delivery in the forestry sector, effectively utilize traditional leaders and best practices to protect the environment, wildlife and equitable use of woodland resources to benefit the present and future generations. The study further recommended the need to revisit the Zimbabwe land reform policy associated with agricultural resettlement and law enforcement agents to be effective in sustainable conservation of woodlands and protected wildlife areas in Zimbabwe.