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Local perceptions of tree diversity, resource utilisation and ecosystem services provision at the periphery of Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe

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journal contribution
posted on 01.08.2017 by Gregory Mero Dowo, Shakkie Kativu, Michel de Garine-Wichatitsky

Efforts to conserve biodiversity in savanna ecosystems have mostly focused on wildlife protection, whereas the relationships between communities at the peripheries of protected areas and their local woodlands have been largely ignored. We explored local perceptions of tree diversity around a national park within a Transfrontier Conservation Area and its importance in providing ecosystem services to local people and factors influencing such perceptions. We also focused on how the different communities view their relationship with the park. The study was carried out around Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. 247 individual interviews and 3 focus group discussions involving between eight to thirteen participants were held between June and November 2014 in Malipati and Chomupani communal areas as well as Gonakudzingwa farms. The free-listing approach was utilised for collecting ethnobotanical data and analysis included one-way analysis of variance and Kendall’s coefficient of concordance. Proximity to park and tenure system were factors found to have a major influence on how the local communities perceived the role of tree diversity in providing ecosystem services and how they related with the park. Communities adjacent to the Park (Malipati communal area and Gonakudzingwa Farms) identified more utilised tree species, ecosystem services as well as benefits from the park than the community further from park (Chomupani communal area). Respondents from Gonakudzingwa, with a higher wealth status, however, showed less dependence on non-timber forest products than those from Malipati. Our results demonstrate the need for resource management approaches to consider such factors when designing benefit sharing schemes in Transfrontier Conservation Areas and the vulnerability of communal areas not located close to the protected area as they may not have access to essential biodiversity and ecosystem services.