CIRCLE Research: Contributing to Ecosystems Management, Restoration Ecology and Climate Change Mitigation

Esther Ekua Amoako
I am a former fellow the UNU-LRT (United National University – Land Restoration Training) programme in Iceland. I have a background in Environmental Management which looks into policies and management of environmental and natural resources. I was enrolled in the six month UNU-LRT programme in 2012, which is where my interest in practicing restoration ecology began. In January 2015 I commenced the one-year CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship to further develop my research in this field.

Ecosystems management is important in climate change mitigation and adaptation. There are various forms of maintaining and improving ecosystems, mainly through conservation and preservation of species and habitats. The other forms of ecosystems management include restoration, and rehabilitation of degraded, damaged, destroyed or fragmented ecosystems.

Ecosystems degradation through deforestation, mining, bush burning, to mention but a few, create carbon sources that exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The irony is that while ecosystems degradation is a major cause of global climate change, the impact of climate change can in turn result in ecosystems degradation. When ecosystems are degraded the repercussions are enormous.

My research in the CIRCLE programme is on fire and terrestrial ecosystems management: The impact of anthropogenic bush burning on plant species and soils in West African savanna/ parklands. My focus is on the Northern Region of Ghana which is experiencing significant fragmentation of vegetation. The region which used to be categorised ecologically as the Guinea Savanna Zone is gradually transforming into Sudan Savanna (with fewer scattered trees). The result of human disturbances such as bush burning and deforestation has implications for both biodiversity and climate change.

My study is focused on measuring the density and diversity of tree species, soil seedbanks and soil nutrients under different fire management regimes. The seed bank experiment revealed a potential for natural regeneration of fire disturbed ecosystems. The soil organic carbon content is also measured and compared with tree densities on burnt and unburnt areas.

The study is contributing to the knowledge of fire in savannas in general and specifically to the Northern Region of Ghana, which has recorded higher occurrences of bush burning than the other nine regions of Ghana. It will serve as baseline information or reference for further studies, restoration of degraded lands, policies and advocacy on fire management.

Most Universities in Ghana place emphasis on issues of sustainable land management, biodiversity and conservation etc. which are more focused on the science and knowledge of environmental management. Ecological restoration, however, is the practice of restoring or rehabilitating degraded ecosystems which is what is needed most in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ghana for instance, has to buy back its diminishing (estimated at 1.3-1.7% per annum) vegetation cover and forest resources through restoration. Looking at a situation we find below calls for urgent actions from all stakeholders.

The satellite images below show the vegetation cover loss between 1973 and 2003 and anthropogenic fire active zones


Sources: Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, Country Report, Ghana                       MODIS/ NASA 2012

A positive aspect of the CIRCLE programme is its support for networking with stakeholders: in particular sharing research information with non-acadamics and policy makers. I think the findings of my research can not be shelved but must be shared. It has a lot of policy implications  for ecosystems magement, which can be tranferred to all stakeholders. This can only be achieved through collaboration between my host and home institutions and others like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Environmental NGO’s. This will surely reinforce the leadership enhancement aspect of the CIRCLE progamme.

In the long term, it is my hope and desire that indiscriminate burning will be reduced and more carbon sinks created to ensure healthy ecosystems that will contribute to mitigating climate impacts. My research is directed toward this objective and aligns firmly with the goal of the Society for Ecological Restoration.

Esther Ekua Amoako is a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow from the Unversity for Development Studies, Ghana, currently hosted at the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

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