Assessing drivers of intra-seasonal grassland dynamics in a Kenyan savannah using digital repeat photography

James M. Muthoka*, Alexander S. Antonarakis, A. Vrieling, Francesco Fava, Edward E. Salakpi, Pedram Rowhani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Understanding grassland dynamics and their relationship to weather and grazing is critical for pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on grassland productivity. Studies investigating the impacts of climate and human factors on inter-seasonal grassland dynamics have focused mostly on changes to vegetation structure. Yet, quantifying the impact of these on the inter-seasonal dynamics of specific grassland communities is not known. This study uses digital repeat photography to examine how intra-seasonal grassland dynamics of different grassland communities are affected by precipitation, temperature, and grazing in a heterogeneous semi-arid savannah in Kenya. A low-cost digital repeat camera network allowed for fine-scale temporal and spatial variability analysis of grassland dynamics and grazing intensity. Over all grass communities, our results show precipitation driving mainly early-season and in some cases mid-season flushing, temperature driving end-of-season senescence, and grazing influencing mid-season declines. Yet, our study quantifies how these three drivers do not uniformly impact grassland species communities. Specifically, Cynodon and Cynodon/Bothriochloa communities are rapidly and positively associated with precipitation, where mid-season declines in Cynodon communities are associated with grazing and late-season declines in Cynodon/Bothriochloa communities are associated with temperature increases. Setaria communities, on the other hand, have weaker associations with the drivers, with limited positive associations with precipitation and grazing. Kunthii/Digitaria diverse communities had no association with the three drivers. Highly diverse mixed communities were associated with increased precipitation and temperature, as well as lower intensity grazing. Our research sheds light on the complex interactions between plants, animals, and weather. Furthermore, this study also demonstrates the potential of digital repeated photography to inform about fine-scale spatial and temporal patterns of semi-arid grassland vegetation and grazing, with the goal of assisting in the formulations of management practises that better capture the intra-annual variability of highly heterogeneous dryland systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109223
JournalEcological indicators
Early online date30 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • Semi-arid
  • Rangelands
  • Phenology
  • Grazing intensity
  • Heterogeneous
  • phenoCam


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