SDP 20 reveals the answer to this question!
The participants of the latest Summer Drylands Programme, also known as SDP, presented their final findings on the 28th of January 2017 at Gobabeb Research and Training Centre,
after approximately two months of data collection and analysis. This year’s SDP was proudly considered a milestone, as it was the 20th to be held.
SDP 20 accommodated a heterogeneous group of 12 participants from various Namibian institutions. These were: Amon Victoria, Anna Shaanika, Eric Shiningayamwe, Hafeni Hamalwa, Halleluya Shaanika, Kapere Tjitjirotjoje, Monika Leevi, Martha Linus, Ndahafa Shindolo, Panashe Mataranyika, Selma Justus, and Taimi Uushona. These were a blend of young and upcoming scientists that have completed, or are busy with, a variety of courses such as Microbiology, Natural Resource Management, Agriculture, Integrated Water Resource Management, and Environmental Biology.
The students first started off with an exciting introductory period held in Windhoek at the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN). This involved a series of orientation activities and lectures from a variety of experts as well as group planning to identify the objectives and approaches of the programme. After the introductory period, the students immediately got their hands dirty in the field to try and find evidence of a ‘piosphere’, which was a new term to many. A piosphere is defined as a gradient of animal impact around a water point caused by a high grazing intensity and heavy trampling, which later results in reduced vegetation and litter cover and reduced biomass. Data were collected from different artificial water points within the Namib-Naukluft Park – Natab II, a water point utilised by the livestock of the Topnaar community; Gemsbok water near Ganab; Tsamsvlei in Sossusvlei; and Escourt. The students measured different variables such as soil properties; animal paths and dung as indicators of grazing pressure; vegetation percentage cover; and landscape functions.
After stressful weeks of Kruskal-Wallis tests and Quantile regressions (non-parametric statistical tests), what we had all been waiting for finally came to fruition. Various people from different organisations drove from miles around to visit Gobabeb for the final day of the SDP presentations – better known as the aptly named, Information Day. The curious and distinguished guests included Mr Teo Nghitila (an alumni of SDP), Environmental Commissioner and Chairman of the Board of the Environmental Investment Fund (the sponsors of SDP); the Ambassador of the European Union Delegation in Namibia, Her Excellency Jana Hybaskova; the Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife Management, Mr Johnson Ndokosho; Mrs Zelna Hengari, Managing Director of Namibia Wildlife Resorts; and Mr Peter Erb, Country Director for SASSCAL, just to mention a few.
On Information Day, the SDP 20 students presented their findings, in which they did confirm the presence of a piosphere effect around artificial water points in the central Namib Desert. This was supported by the significant trend of increasing vegetation cover as one move away from the water point and an increase in bulk density with distance from the water point. According to the SDP presentation, this is due to the looseness of the soil closer to the water point (caused by high animal activity) and high compactness of soil away from the water point. Dung mass and animal pathways, as indicators of grazing pressure, both supported the presence of a piosphere in the central Namib.
The SDP 20 participants were delighted to show their accomplishment through this programme and happy to tell everyone about what they had grasped and achieved from it. The day was ended with demonstrations of the SDP field work, followed by a sundowner for final photographs and farewells.