Subdivision and sedentarization of pastoral communities is accelerating rapidly across the African rangelands, posing a severe threat to wildlife populations, but few studies have looked quantitatively at the ecological impact of sedentarization. Here we look at the impact of sedentarization on wildlife by comparing ecologically matched subdivided and unsubdivided Maasai pastoral lands (ranches) in semiarid southern Kenya. We found no significant difference in livestock densities on the two ranches but there was a significantly higher wildlife density on the unsubdivided ranch, in both dry and wet seasons. Nonetheless, the unsubdivided ranch still had a higher percentage of grass biomass and ground cover and lower grazing pressure than the subdivided ranch. Distribution of homesteads (bomas) was mostly random on the subdivided ranch, with little area unaffected by human settlement. On the contrary, the unsubdivided ranch had a highly clumped boma distribution pattern, resulting in much of the land being relatively far from permanent human settlement. We show that the regular distribution and permanence of settlements following subdivision and sedentarization greatly reduces wildlife populations both through direct displacement and a reduction of forage. Relative to mobile pastoralism on open rangelands, sedentarization leads to reduced seasonal movements of livestock, lowered grass biomass, and slower grass recovery after very dry periods. This study points to the need to maintain mobile, large-scale herd movements to avoid the heavy impact on grasslands associated with sedentarization of pastoral settlement and herds.
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