Ethnic and locational differences in ecosystem service values: Insights from the communities in forest islands in the desert

Understanding cultural preferences toward different ecosystem services is of great importance for conservation and development planning. While cultural preferences toward plant species have been long studied in the field of plant utilisation, the effects of ethnicity on ecosystem services identification and valuation has received little attention. We assessed the effects of ethnicity toward different ecosystem services at three similar forest islands in northern Kenya inhabited by Samburu and Boran pastoralists. Twelve focus groups were organised in each mountain, to evaluate the ecosystem services provided by the forest, and assess which plant species are most important for provisioning different ecosystem services. While water was always identified as the most important ecosystem service, the second most important differed; and some were only mentioned by one ethnic group or in one location. Preferred plant species for food, fodder, medicine resources, poles and firewood followed the same pattern. Our results showed that ethnicity and location affect ecosystem servicesí identification and importance ranking. This should be taken into account by decision-makers, e.g. as restricted access and regulated extraction is likely to affect people differently. Conservation and development projects would be more effective if they were initiated with an understanding of how people already use and value their forests.