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Integrating local pastoral knowledge, participatory mapping, and species distribution modeling for risk assessment of invasive rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) in Ethiopia’s Afar region

Matthew W. Luizza, Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Tewodros Wakie, Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Paul H. Evangelista, Colorado State University, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Catherine S. Jarnevich, U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center


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The threats posed by invasive plants span ecosystems and economies worldwide. Local knowledge of biological invasions has proven beneficial for invasive species research, but to date no work has integrated this knowledge with species distribution modeling for invasion risk assessments. In this study, we integrated pastoral knowledge with Maxent modeling to assess the suitable habitat and potential impacts of invasive Cryptostegia grandiflora Robx. Ex R.Br. (rubber vine) in Ethiopia’s Afar region. We conducted focus groups with seven villages across the Amibara and Awash-Fentale districts. Pastoral knowledge revealed the growing threat of rubber vine, which to date has received limited attention in Ethiopia, and whose presence in Afar was previously unknown to our team. Rubber vine occurrence points were collected in the field with pastoralists and processed in Maxent with MODIS-derived vegetation indices, topographic data, and anthropogenic variables. We tested model fit using a jackknife procedure and validated the final model with an independent occurrence data set collected through participatory mapping activities with pastoralists. A Multivariate Environmental Similarity Surface analysis revealed areas with novel environmental conditions for future targeted surveys. Model performance was evaluated using area under the receiver-operating characteristic curve (AUC) and showed good fit across the jackknife models (average AUC = 0.80) and the final model (test AUC = 0.96). Our results reveal the growing threat rubber vine poses to Afar, with suitable habitat extending downstream of its current known location in the middle Awash River basin. Local pastoral knowledge provided important context for its rapid expansion due to acute changes in seasonality and habitat alteration, in addition to threats posed to numerous endemic tree species that provide critical provisioning ecosystem services. This work demonstrates the utility of integrating local ecological knowledge with species distribution modeling for early detection and targeted surveying of recently established invasive species.

Key words

Afar region; citizen science; Cryptostegia grandiflora; Ethiopia; invasive species; local ecological knowledge; Maxent; participatory mapping; pastoral livelihoods; risk assessment; rubber vine; species distribution modeling

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087