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Effects of water depth and livelihood activities on plant species composition and diversity in Nyando floodplain wetland, Kenya

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The influence of water levels and livelihood activities on plant species composition, diversity and structuring of wetland ecosystem is a concern as wetlands undergo human exploitation and the increasing threat from climate change. To evaluate the effect of seasonal changes in water depth and human activities, plant density and species composition were assessed in wet and dry seasons and in natural and converted wetland zones of the Nyando papyrus wetland, Kenya. Three transects with different water regimes and livelihood activities were identified. Overall, 30 plant species were identified. In the less disturbed zone, differences between transects were small and 79 % (dry season) to 99 % (wet season) of the plant density consisted of obligate and facultative wetland plants. These groups were dominated by Cyperus papyrus and Vossia cuspidata. In the converted zone, facultative, facultative upland and upland plants became more important with 36 % of the plant density. The seasonally inundated zone had species diversity and species richness increased under dry conditions with more facultative upland species. In the converted zone, disturbance caused by vegetation removal, cropping and other livelihood activities lead to lower soil moisture and more colonization opportunity for facultative and upland species that are more adapted to dry conditions.

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This work was a collaboration between the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, The Netherlands; Egerton University, Kenya and the Victoria Institute for Environment and Development (VIRED International), Kenya with funding from DGIS (Netherlands Ministry of Development Cooperation) through the project “Ecology of Livelihoods in East African Papyrus Wetlands” (ECOLIVE). We appreciate the assistance from research assistants Joel Onyango and Nicholas Outa. We thank the MSc-students Patteson Chula and Patrick Orwa who assisted with the field work. We are thankful to the Nyando wetland community members and leaders who granted us permission to work in their area and especially to Wicliffe Odiwuor (Singida), Sabianus Owuor (Ogenya) and Samuel Andega (Wasare) for their support, guidance and protection in the field. We are grateful to Patrick Khisa for drawing the location map. We thank two reviewers for extensive constructive comments on the manuscript. DGIS through UNESCO-IHE Partnership fund (UPaRF) in the project “The Ecology of Livelihoods in East African Papyrus Wetlands” (ECOLIVE).

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Correspondence to P. J. K. Rongoei.

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Rongoei, P.J.K., Kipkemboi, J., Kariuki, S.T. et al. Effects of water depth and livelihood activities on plant species composition and diversity in Nyando floodplain wetland, Kenya. Wetlands Ecol Manage 22, 177–189 (2014).

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