Unsustainable trade-offs: provisioning ecosystem services in rapidly changing Likangala River catchment in southern Malawi

  • Deepa PullanikkatilEmail author
  • Penelope J. Mograbi
  • Lobina Palamuleni
  • Tabukeli Ruhiiga
  • Charlie Shackleton


Provisioning ecosystem services of the Likangala River Catchment in southern Malawi are important for livelihoods of those living there. Remote sensing, participatory mapping and focus group discussions were used to explore the spatio-temporal changes and trade-offs in land-cover change from 1984 to 2013, and how that affects provisioning ecosystem services in the area. Communities derive a number of provisioning ecosystem services from the catchment. Forty-eight species of edible wild animals (including birds), 28 species of edible wild plants and fungi, 22 species of medicinal plants, construction materials, ornamental flowers, firewood, honey, gum, reeds and thatch/weaving grasses were derived from the catchment and used by local communities. These provisioning services are under threat from land-use change within two “hot-spots”, Zomba Mountain and mouth of the river at Lake Chilwa. Zomba Mountain has experienced losses in forests and gains in shrublands, and Lake Chilwa area saw losses of forests, wetlands and shrublands due to increased areas under cultivation. Extrapolation of trends of land cover change in the catchment until 2023 revealed that forests and wetlands will occupy less than 2% of the catchment, while urban areas will grow to over 5% of catchment area. The main driver for land-use change is need for expansion of agricultural land for food production. Participatory mapping and focus group discussions point towards a decline in provisioning services in the catchment and spill-over effects to other catchments. This requires a holistic approach to address the drivers of land-use change for effective management of this ecosystem.


Ecosystems trade-offs Land-use change Likangala River Livelihoods Long-term change Mapping Participatory GIS 



The study was funded through NorthWest University’s Ph.D. bursary. All community members who participated in the mapping and focus group discussions are thanked. Preparation time by PD, PM and CS for the paper was supported by the South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Dept of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa. Any opinion, finding, conclusion or recommendation expressed in this material is that of the authors and the NRF does not accept any liability in this regard.

Compliance with ethical standards

Informed consent

Written informed consent was obtained from the legal authorised representative of participant for publication of the images in (Fig. 3b, d).


  1. Angelsen, A., Jagger, P., Babigumira, R., Belcher, B., Hogarth, N. J., Bauch, S., et al. (2014). Environmental income and rural livelihoods: A global comparative analysis. World Development, 64(S1), S12–S28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bagstad, K. J., Villa, F., Batker, D., Harrison-Cox, J., Voigt, B., & Johnson, G. W. (2014). From theoretical to actual ecosystem services: Mapping beneficiaries and spatial flows in ecosystem service assessments. Ecology and Society, 19(2), 64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, E. M., Cramer, W., Begossi, A., Cundill, G., Díaz, S., Egoh, B. N., et al. (2015). Linking biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human well-being: Three challenges for designing research for sustainability. Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainnability., 14, 76–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bharucha, Z., & Pretty, J. (2010). The roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society Biological Sciences, 365, 2913–2926.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bloomfield, K., & Young, A. (1961). The geology and geomorphology of Zomba mountain. The Nyasaland Journal, 14(2), 54–80.Google Scholar
  6. Bommarco, R., Kleijn, D., & Potts, S. (2013). Ecological intensification: Harnessing ecosystem services for food security. Trends in Ecological Evolution, 28, 230–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bone, R. A., Parks, K. E., Hudson, M. D., Tsirinzeni, M., & Willcock, S. (2016). Deforestation since independence: A quantitative assessment of four decades of land-cover change in Malawi. Southern Forests: A Journal of Forest Science. Scholar
  8. Brink, A. B., & Eva, H. D. (2009). Monitoring 25 years of land cover change dynamics in Africa: A sample based remote sensing approach. Applied Geography, 29(4), 501–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, G., & Fagerholm, N. (2015). Empirical PPGIS/PGIS mapping of ecosystem services: A review and evaluation. Best Practices for Mapping Ecosystem Services, 13, 119–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, G., Montag, J. M., & Lyon, K. (2012). Public Participation GIS: A Method for Identifying Ecosystem Services. Society and Natural Resources, 25(7), 633–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burkhard, B., Krolla, F., Nedkovb, S., & Müllera, F. (2012). Mapping ecosystem service supply, demand and budgets. Ecological Indicators, 21, 17–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Canevari-Luzardo, L., Bastide, J., Choutet, I., & Liverman, D. (2015). Using partial participatory GIS in vulnerability and disaster risk reduction in Grenada. Climate and Development. Scholar
  13. Chidya, R. C. G., Sajidu, S. M. I., Mwatseteza, J. F., & Masamba, W. R. L. (2011). Evaluation and assessment of water quality in Likangala River and its catchment area. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 36(14–15), 865–871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen, J. A. (1960). A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 20(1), 37–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coppock, J. T., & Rhind, D. W. (1991). The history of GIS. In P. A. Longley, M. F. Goodchild, D. J. Maguire, & D. W. Rhind (Eds.), Geographical information systems: Principles and applications (Vol. 1, pp. 21–42). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Costanza, R., d’Arge, R., de Groot, R., Farberk, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., et al. (1997). The value of the world’ s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387(May), 253–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Delang, C. O. (2006). Not just minor forest products: The economic rationale for the consumption of wild food plants by subsistence farmers. Ecological Economics, 59, 64–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Díaz, S., Demissew, S., Carabias, J., Joly, C., Lonsdale, M., Ash, N., et al. (2015). The IPBES conceptual framework—connecting nature and people. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 14, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Egoh, B., Reyers, B., Rouget, M., Richardson, D. M., Le Maitre, D. C., & van Jaarsveld, A. S. (2008). Mapping ecosystem services for planning and management. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 127(1–2), 135–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ellis, E. C., & Ramankutty, N. (2008). Putting people in the map: Anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(8), 439–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Elwood, S. (2010). Geographic information science. Emerging research on the societal implications of the geospatial web. Progress in Human Geography, 34(3), 349–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. ESRI. (2012). ArcGIS 10.1.Google Scholar
  23. FAO. (2014). The state of the world’s forest genetic resources; Malawi country report. Online publication available at 41.pdf. Accessed 17 May 2017.
  24. FAOSTAT. (2017). FAOSTAT Country Indicators: Malawi. Online publication available at Accessed 18 July 2017.
  25. Foley, J. A., DeFries, R., Asner, G., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S., et al. (2005). Global consequences of land-use. Science, 309(5734), 570–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gibbs, H. K., Ruesch, A. S., Achard, F., Clayton, M. K., Holmgren, P., Ramankutty, N., et al. (2010). Tropical forests were the primary sources of new agricultural land in the 1980s and 1990s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16732–16737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gosling, A., Shackleton, C. M., & Gambiza, J. (2017). Community-based natural resource use and management of Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, Uganda, for livelihood benefits. Wetland Ecology and Management. Scholar
  28. Hmimina, G., Dufrene, E., Pontailler, J. Y., Delpierre, N., Aubinet, M., Caquet, B., et al. (2013). Evaluation of the potential of MODIS satellite data to predict vegetation phenology in different biomes: An investigation using ground-based NDVI measurements. Remote Sensing of Environment, 132, 145–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holland, R. A., Eigenbrod, F., Armsworth, P. R., Anderson, B. J., Thomas, C. D., & Gaston, K. J. (2011). The influence of temporal variation on relationships between ecosystem services. Biodiversity Conservation, 20, 3285–3294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ickowitz, A. (2003). Poverty and the environment. In K. Griffin (Ed.), Poverty reduction in Mongolia (pp. 95–112). Canberra: Asia Pacific Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jamu, D., Chimphamba, J., & Brummett, R. (2003). Land-use and cover changes in the Likangala catchment of the Lake Chilwa basin, Malawi: Implications for managing a tropical wetland. African Journal of Aquatic Science, 28(2), 123–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jensen, J. R. (2005). Digital image processing: A remote sensing perspective (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  33. Kambewa, D. (2014). Tenure security and land-use in the Lake Chilwa wetlands. In P. Mvula, et al. (Eds.), Towards defragmenting the management system of Lake Chilwa Basin, Malawi (pp. 51–60). Munster: Lit Verlag.Google Scholar
  34. Kehoe, L., Romero-Muñoz, A., Polaina, E., Estes, L., Kreft, H., & Kuemmerle, T. (2017). Biodiversity at risk under future cropland expansion and intensification. Nature. Scholar
  35. Khatami, R., Mountrakis, G., & Stehman, S. V. (2016). A meta-analysis of remote sensing research on supervised pixel-based land-cover image classification processes: General guidelines for practitioners and future research. Remote Sensing of Environment, 177, 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kindu, M., Schneider, T., Teketay, D., & Knoke, T. (2013). Land use/land cover change analysis using object-based classification approach in Munessa-Shashemene landscape of the Ethiopian Highlands. Remote Sensing, 5, 2411–2435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Koch, E. W., Barbier, E. B., Silliman, B. R., Reed, D. J., Perillo, G. M., Hacker, S. D., et al. (2009). Non-linearity in ecosystem services: Temporal and spatial variability in coastal protection. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 29–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lambin, E. F., Turner, B. L., II, Helmut, J. G., Agbola, S. B., Angelsen, A., Bruce, J. W., et al. (2001). The causes of land-use and land-cover change: Moving beyond the myths. Global Environmental Change, 11, 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lillesand, T., Kiefer, R. W., & Chipman, J. (2014). Remote sensing and image interpretation seventh. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  40. Malawi Government and Satellitbild. (1993). Forest Resources Mapping and Biomass Assessment for Malawi. Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources (ed.), Satellitbild, a subsidiary of Swedish Space Corporation, Lilongwe, Malawi and Kiruna, Sweden.Google Scholar
  41. Maloya, H. (2005). There is Wealth in our Wetlands, a Call for their Conservation. Online publication available at Accessed on 17 May 2017.
  42. Mangwale, K., Shackleton, C. M., & Sigwela, A. (2017). Changes in forest cover and carbon stocks of the coastal scarp forests of the Wild Coast. South Africa: Southern Forests. Scholar
  43. Martínez-Harms, M. J., & Balvanera, P. (2012). Methods for mapping ecosystem service supply: A review. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services and Management, 8(1–2), 17–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2003). Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Current State and Trends Assessment. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  45. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: Wetlands and water synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.Google Scholar
  46. National Statistical Office. (1987). Population and Household Census. Zomba: Government of Malawi.Google Scholar
  47. National Statistical Office. (1998). Population and Household Census. Zomba: Government of Malawi.Google Scholar
  48. National Statistical Office. (2008). Population and Household Census. Zomba: Government of Malawi.Google Scholar
  49. Ncube, K., Shackleton, C. M., Swallow, B. M., & Dassanayake, W. (2016). Impacts of HIV/AIDS on food consumption and wild food use in rural South Africa. Food Security, 8, 1135–1151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, D., et al. (2009). Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 4–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nicholson, E., Mace, G. M., Armsworth, P. R., Atkinson, G., Buckle, S., Clements, T., et al. (2009). Priority research areas for ecosystem services in a changing world. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46(6), 1139–1144.Google Scholar
  52. Njaya, F., Snyder, K. A., Jamu, D., Wilson, J., Howard-Williams, C., Allison, E. H., et al. (2011). The natural history and fisheries ecology of Lake Chilwa, southern Malawi. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 37, 15–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Palmer, M. (2012). Encountering indigital geographic information networks. Cartographica, 47(2), 92–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Paumgarten, F., & Shackleton, C. M. (2011). The role of non-timber forest products in household coping strategies in South Africa: The influence of household wealth and gender. Population and Environment, 33, 108–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Poppy, G., Chiotha, S., Eigenbrod, F., Harvey, C., Honzak, M., Hudson, M., et al. (2014). Food security in a perfect storm: An ecosystem services approach. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B., 369, 20120288. Scholar
  56. Powell, B., Hall, J., & Johns, T. (2011). Forest cover, use and dietary intake in the East Usambara Mountains. Tanzania. International Forestry Review, 13(3), 305–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pullanikkatil, D., Palamuleni, L., & Ruhiiga, T. (2016a). Assessment of land-use change in Likangala River Catchment, Malawi: A remote sensing and DPSIR approach. Applied Geography, 71, 9–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pullanikkatil, D., Palamuleni, L. G., & Ruhiiga, T. M. (2016b). Land-use/land cover change and implications for ecosystems services in the Likangala River Catchment, Malawi. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 93, 96–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ramsar. (2005). World Wetlands Day Reports: Malawi. Online publication available at: Accessed May 5, 2017.
  60. Rayfuse, R., & Weisfelt, N. (Eds.). (2012). The Challenge of Food Security. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishers.Google Scholar
  61. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., III, Lambin, E. F., et al. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461, 472–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rodríguez, J. P., Beard, T. D., Jr., Bennett, E. M., Cumming, G. S., Cork, S., Agard, J., et al. (2006). Trade-offs across space, time, and ecosystem services. Ecology and Society, 11(1), 28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Roth, R. (2009). The challenges of mapping complex indigenous spatiality. Cultural Geographies, 16, 207–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rouse, W., Haas, R. H., & Deering, D. W. (1974). Monitoring vegetation systems in the Great Plains with ERTS, NASA SP-351. Washington, DC: NASA.Google Scholar
  65. Shackleton, C. M., & Pandey, A. K. (2014). Positioning non-timber forest products on the development agenda. Forest Policy and Economics, 38, 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shackleton, R., Shackleton, C., Shackleton, S., & Gambiza, J. (2013). Deagrarianisation and forest revegetation in a biodiversity hotspot on the Wild Coast. South Africa. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e76939. Scholar
  67. Stickler, M. M., & Shackleton, C. M. (2015). Local wood demand, land cover change and the state of Albany Thicket on an urban commonage in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Environmental Management, 55, 411–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sunderlin, W. D., Angelsen, A., & Wunder, S. (2003). Forests and poverty alleviation (pp. 61–73). State of the World’s Forests.Google Scholar
  69. Townshend, J. R., Masek, J. G., Huang, C., Vermote, E. F., Gao, F., & Channan, S. (2012). Global characterization and monitoring of forest cover using Landsat data: Opportunities and challenges. International Journal of Digital Earth, 5(5), 373–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. van Breugel, P., Kindt, R., Lillesø, J.P.B., Bingham, M., Demissew, S., Dudley, C., Friis, I., Gachathi, F., Kalema, J., Mbago, F., Moshi, H.N., Mulumba, J., Namaganda, M., Ndangalasi, H.J., Ruffo, C.K., Védaste, M., Jamnadass, R. and Graudal, L. (2015). Potential Natural Vegetation Map of Eastern Africa (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia). Version 2.0. Forest and Landscape (Denmark) and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Online publication available at: Accessed 8 May 2017.
  71. Villa, F., Bagstad, K. J., Voigt, B., Johnson, G. W., Portela, R., Honzak, M., et al. (2014). Methodology for adaptable and robust ecosystem services assessment. PLoS ONE, 9(3), e91001. Scholar
  72. World Bank Indicators. (2017). Malawi Population. Online publication available at Accessed 17 May 2017.
  73. Wunder, S., Angelsen, A., & Belcher, B. (2014a). Forests Livelihoods and Conservation: Broadening the Empirical Base. World Development, 64, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wunder, S., Börner, J., Shively, G., & Wyman, M. (2014b). Safety nets, gap filling and forests: A global comparative perspective. World Development. Scholar
  75. Young, J., & Gilmore, M. (2017). participatory uses of geospatial technologies to leverage multiple knowledge systems within development contexts: A case study from the peruvian amazon. World Development, 93, 389–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zomba District Council. (2010). Zomba District 2009 Socio Economic Profile. Online publication available at Accessed 17 May 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental ScienceRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Geo and Spatial SciencesNorth West UniversityMafikengSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations