The Multiple Collapse of Lake Naivasha - Approaching the Complexity in Social-Ecological Systems

"As I thought I understood it, then a new alien species would arrive and the whole thing would start again." David M. Harper, from the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester, is doing research at Lake Naivasha in Kenya for 30 years now. As an ecologist, he tried to understand the straight forward limnology of the lake. "And then I realised after about three or four years that the reason that the lake was functioning unpredictably was because it was full of alien species." What he learnt during this time reveals a lot what science is about. Simple explanations may be right for simple problems. But when it comes to ecological dynamics being influenced by humans and the other way around there is no such thing as simplicity. Therefore a more comprehensive approach is needed than a single discipline can offer. That is why Mr. Harper's work is an invaluable contribution to the understanding of the endogenous functioning of the system. But how to deal with external shocks, changes in governing institutions or the drastic increase in population? What are the consequences for the demand towards the lake? Can illegal water abstraction be prohibited by the existing institutions? All of these questions do affect the ecology of the lake and may lead or already did lead to its collapse. That is why Mr. Harper could observe a wide range of changes around and inside the lake. But to really understand the underlying principles of these processes the help of social science, geography, ethnology and economics is needed. And that is where Prof. Michael Bollig and Patrick Sakdapolrak jump in. They are two scientists in the joint research project between University Cologne and University Bonn representing the study of the social processes at Lake Naivasha. In the Research Unit 1501 started in 2010, a comprehensive approach is being tested to bring together a wide range of disciplines to explain the functioning of the coupled social-ecological system of Lake Naivasha. Further Information Research Unit 1501: Resilience, Collapse and Reorganization in Social-Ecological Systems of African Savannas Involved University Chairs (amongst others) Institute for Ethnology University Cologne Department of Development Geography University Bonn Chair of Resource and Environmental Economics University Bonn


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