Impact of livestock management on water quality and streambank structure in a semi-arid, African ecosystem
Journal of Arid Environments , 73 , 2009

Strauch, A.M., Kapust, A.R., Jost, C.C.

Natural resource management may change local and regional ecosystems, especially in drought-prone environments. Livestock are commonly kept as a source of capital in agriculturally dominated communities in Southern Africa, but the mis-management of available forage and water resources has led to significant land and water degradation. In Northwest Zimbabwe, to reverse trends in environmental degradation a community-based conservation program was established that uses intensive Holistic Management Planned Grazing (HMPG) to restore lost habitat and re-establish natural vegetation. We examined riparian ecosystem structure and water quality to compare the environmental impact of this management to nearby communal lands during a drought. The results demonstrate that concentrating livestock on ephemeral stream standing pools results in reduced water quality and altered riparian ecosystem structure. These results were not significantly different from what was observed when wildlife utilized similar water resources without livestock influence. When water is scarce, as during extreme droughts, livestock usage of surface water resources must be weighted against community water needs. The long-term regional benefits of HMPG may prevail over short-term reductions in local water quality but more research is needed to assess all the consequences of such management.