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Land use and cover changes in the Likangala catchment of the Lake Chilwa basin, Malawi: implications for managing a tropical wetland

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This study analyses land use and cover changes in the Likangala River catchment of Lake Chilwa, Malawi, an endorheic tropical African lake. It also examines how land use-related physico-chemical and hydrological parameters in two affluent rivers of the lake affect the migratory and reproductive behaviour of Barbus paludinosus and B. trimaculatus, which are migratory, ecologically and economically important fish species. Land use analysis indicated increasing deforestation and conversion of agricultural land to homestead development. High soil losses of 100t ha–1 yr–1 were estimated in the upper reaches of the catchment. High rainfall kinetic energy and poor vegetation cover were major determinants of soil loss. Sediment yield was high (374t km–2 yr–1) in the more degraded catchment of the Likangala River, compared to 315t km–2 yr–1 in the less degraded Domasi River catchment. A situation analysis for the Likangala River catchment showed that a marked reduction in soil loss occurred when a combined 20% increase of contour ridging, maize yield and tree canopy was assumed. Multiple regression analysis indicated that sediment yield, river flow rate, electrical conductivity and total suspended solids are significant predictors of the migration dynamics and reproductive status of both Barbus species. Our results suggest that the most critical soil loss factor should form an integral part of soil conservation measures in the catchment and that appropriate management actions that reduce fishing pressure on breeding Barbus females in the affluent rivers should be formulated to ensure the success of spawning migrations of breeding females into these rivers. The study further demonstrates how a combination of land use modelling, community outreach, river water quality analysis and fish population dynamics analysis can be used to identify factors useful for managing and monitoring the catchments of small tropical lakes.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2003

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