Authored by Brad Czerniak

Tanzania's Northern Lake Nyasa basin contains montane forests that are renowned for their endemic plants and critically endangered fauna (e.g., Kipunji). The region's wetlands are rich in species diversity and among the world's most biologically productive ecosystems. The significant ecosystem services linkages between these areas with downstream aquatic biodiversity, fisheries production, and human well-being, however, receive little attention. The basin's rural human population is expected to grow rapidly, further straining the natural resource base. Agricultural expansion in the Northern basin may have disproportionate water resource impacts because the areas' high rainfall comprises much of the lake's inflow. How can such agricultural expansion be accommodated without compromising biodiversity values and ecosystem service delivery? To prioritize basin areas for planning and management this research project used spatial models shaped by expert opinions. Researchers applied Natural Capital Project tools to prioritize areas for investment in interventions designed to benefit erosion control, water quality, and water supply. They used Maximum Entropy Modeling to evaluate the risk of natural area degradation or conversion related to agricultural expansion, deforestation, and fire the dominant land use conversion agents in the basin considering biophysical and socio-economic factors. These analytical products enabled prioritization of natural areas with high conservation and/or ecosystem services values that are also at high risk. Ecologists, planners, and managers reviewed preliminary findings at a workshop in the basin and provided feedback towards revisions that prioritized 3-6% of the basin for interventions depending on investment. Researchers replicated this approach in other areas of Tanzania to address sustainable development.