Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are those functions that is performed by the ecosystems from which we can benefit. AICE is interested in those functions that is performed around predators and their prey, but also we focus on those functions that is unique in our environment, which include rural and semi-arid areas of Africa that is especially prone to environmental degradation and human poverty.

Ecological rodent management

Rodent pests are amongst the most under-estimated pests in African (and globally). Resource poor smallholder farmers are often most impacted due to a lack of resources and limited pest control and management options. A recent review indicated that crop losses due to rodents in African-Malagasy small holder farmers, averaged around 15%, but can range up to 100% during outbreak years. As such, finding ecological and sustainable solutions to rodent pests for smallholder farmers is important for food as well as financial security. It is important to remember that smallholder farmers are still the backbone of food production in many parts of Africa.

In this project we work alongside University of Venda and serval other African Universities to promote ecologically based rodent management. Our approach is multi-facetted, ranging from local control methods to biological control. Predation is a key component in our repertoire of control methods. While previous research has shown that rural agricultural matrix has a rich diversity of small mammalian and avian rodent predators, most of these species are culturally loathed and face heavy persecution. One key component of this project is an education program aimed at schools and smallholder farmers. We specifically focus on the ecological role of predators, as well as the traditional-cultural uses and importance of these species. The program is demonstration based, and we assist several key small holder farmers (farming champions) to implement control methods that will act as demonstration for other smallholder farmers.


Mopane worm project

Some animals perform crucial roles in the ecosystem, acting as keystone species or ecosystem engineers, and these species are not only part of the food chain, but changing and shaping the environment. Insects, such as mopane worms are seldom studied in this context. In southern Africa, mopane worms are an important food source for communities and wildlife. They are also a source of income to those involved in their harvesting and trade. They are of considerable social, economic and cultural significance. However, like all other species, mopane caterpillars face challenges due to climate change, habitat destruction, and overuse, consequently influencing mopane worm population. Our studies focusses on mopane worms’ contribution to nutrient cycling on landscape level. By using field and laboratory experiments, we assessed the extent to which mopane worms are facilitating the conversion of nutrients from leaves to plant available components. Our results show that mopane worms are vital to nutrient cycling and as such, the loss of mopane worms could negatively affect the ecosystem.

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