Serengeti IV: Sustaining Biodiversity in a Coupled Human-Natural System

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The vast savannas and great migrations of the Serengeti conjure impressions of a harmonious and balanced ecosystem. But in reality, the history of the Serengeti is rife with battles between human and non-human nature. In the 1890s and several times since, the cattle virus rinderpest—at last vanquished in 2008—devastated both domesticated and wild ungulate populations, as well as the lives of humans and other animals who depended on them. In the 1920s, tourists armed with the world’s most expensive hunting gear filled the grasslands. And in recent years, violence in Tanzania has threatened one of the most successful long-term ecological research centers in history.

Serengeti IV, the latest installment in a long-standing series on the region’s ecology and biodiversity, explores the role of our species as a source of both discord and balance in Serengeti ecosystem dynamics. Through chapters charting the complexities of infectious disease transmission across populations, agricultural expansion, and the many challenges of managing this ecosystem today, this book shows how the people and landscapes surrounding crucial protected areas like Serengeti National Park can and must contribute to Serengeti conservation. In order to succeed, conservation efforts must also focus on the welfare of indigenous peoples, allowing them both to sustain their agricultural practices and to benefit from the natural resources provided by protected areas—an undertaking that will require the strengthening of government and education systems and, as such, will present one of the greatest conservation challenges of the next century.

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About the Author:

Anthony R. E. Sinclair is professor emeritus of zoology at the University of British Columbia and coeditor of Serengeti I, II, and III. He lives in Richmond, BC. Kristine L. Metzger is a landscape ecologist working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Simon A. R. Mduma is director of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and coeditor of Serengeti III. John M. Fryxell is professor of integrative biology at the University of Guelph and coeditor of Serengeti III.

Review:

“An especially momentous contribution. This book is mind-boggling in its scope, synthesizing a suite of multiyear studies ranging from the abundance and diversity of arthropods within Serengeti National Park to strategies for disincentivizing poaching through the development of alternative incomes. . . . In sum, Serengeti IV is an epic achievement. It is at once both deeply and broadly appealing, rigorous and readable, cautionary and optimistic. It belongs on the bookshelves of all ecologists (not just those working in Africa, or on large mammals, or in rangeland ecosystems), those working in human dimensions of wildlife conservation, and members of the general public fascinated by this grand ecosystem.” (Jacob R. Goheen, University of Wyoming Journal of Mammalogy)

“An impressive tribute to the Serengeti ecosystem and the work of Sinclair and his colleagues over the past fifty years. The book synthesizes studies on the Serengeti ecosystem through a lens of disturbance, natural and human. Numerous chapters summarize the current state of what is known on subjects ranging from butterflies to infectious disease, elephants, and vegetation, with an overall focus on sustainability. The latter part of the book includes human social systems and consequences of human-wildlife interactions. Throughout the volume, implications of management, policy, and conservation, as directed by the science, are reviewed in the context of changing climate and human influences. . . . Comprehensive, well organized, nicely illustrated, and chock-full of references. The entire volume will be useful to students and researchers with interests in African ecology; additionally, chapters such as, ‘Why Are Wildebeest the Most Abundant Herbivore in the Serengeti Ecosystem?’ stand alone and can be useful in courses such as ecology and behavior. . . . Highly recommended.” (C. L. Johnson, Gustavus Adolphus College Choice)

Serengeti IV is an interesting read for all who are concerned about the current struggle in conservation biology; to what degree (if at all) do we accept humans as a natural, intrinsic, driver of ecosystems? And how do we develop new ways that ensure that protected areas truly support surrounding communities? The Serengeti, and the research that occurs there, will likely continue to play a pivotal role in these heavily debated questions, and it is my hope that it will provide part of the answers.” (Joris P. G. M. Cromsigt, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa Quarterly Review of Biology)

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