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Camel Grazing, Species Diversity and Community Structure in the Deserts of the UAE Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 27th, 2022

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the fast-growing nations characterized by powerful and rich resources used to support the high speed of the state’s evolution. The country devotes much attention to developing its economy and making it less dependent on oil to create the basis for future successes. The government also focuses on problems that might affect new generations, and that should be resolved to ensure a high quality of life for all citizens (Zacharias, 2020). Environmental concerns belong to this cohort as the UAE is located in an area with traditionally complex climate conditions. For centuries, people had been adapting to living in deserts with their unique ecosystems. As a result, they formed a unique lifestyle and agriculture capable of meeting their nutritional needs.

Camel grazing became one of the fundamental aspects of the Middle Eastern and the UAE region as it became a source of products vital for survival. Today, it remains significant and is practices in the country. However, the focus on environmental issues gave rise to debates on camel grazing effects on species diversity and community structure in the deserts of the UAE. For this reason, the paper aims at determining the central points associated with the issue, outlining the current state of the area, consequences of camel grazing, and possible changes in the future. The improved understanding of the influence camel grazing has on lands might help to reduce desertification rates and improve the state of ecosystems in the UAE.

Background

Camel is a unique mammal domesticated by humans in the course of evolution. It has a special status formed by multiple factors, such as a high level of adaptability allowing the animal to live in the desert, its multipurpose nature, the ability to produce many products, and critical importance for the local economy. Camels provide people with milk, meat, wool, skin, and manure vital for agriculture (Chaudhary, 2015). Furthermore, these mammals offer transportation and leisure options such as polo, tourism, riding, pack carrying, and agricultural work (Chaudhary, 2015). Finally, they are a symbol of the Middle Eastern area attracting millions of tourists annually (Chaudhary, 2015).

In such a way, this domestic animal offers a variety of services for human populations. It explains the fast speed of camel population growth. Statistics show that the number of camels has doubled since 1961, with an annual growth of about 2% (Malek, 2018). It is faster than sheep, horse, cattle, and lama populations rise globally (Zacharias, 2020). The UAE also has a tendency towards growth in camel population (Zacharias, 2020). It means that camel grazing plays a serious role in the life of the nation.

However, the intensification of camel farming globally and in the UAE has significant consequences that create the basis for vigorous debates. The major claim is that the too extensive camel grazing and the fast growth in their number pose a threat to ecosystems of deserts and result in the deterioration in the state of the environment. Consumption of specific types of grass and the need for increasing amounts of grass result in high stress for soils and local species (Zacharias, 2020). Under these conditions, scientists try to evaluate the effects of camel grazing and offer solutions to restore areas of the UAE affected by this factor.

Problem

The research paper revolves around the problem of camel grazing and its influence on the environment. Currently, researchers state that this activity is recognized as the major cause of ecological degradation in the UAE, leading to the spread of deserted lands and the deterioration of climate (Gallacher & Hill, 2006).

There are also assumptions stating that disregarding the given issue will result in the emergence of long-term effects preconditioning the crucial and irreversible alterations in the community and species structure. The topicality of the problem and its relevance are evidenced by the constantly growing number of camels and severe effects observed nowadays in the UAE (Gallacher & Hill, 2006). Under these conditions, it is vital to address the problem and determine camel grazing effects on existing species, their diversity, and how they can be managed to avoid undesired results.

Methodology

The outlined research problem is discussed by multiple other authors concerned with the high speed of camel grazing and its effects on the environment. For this reason, the investigation of the research problem can be performed by using the literature review method. It will help to synthesize the existing sources and structure the current information about the influence camels and their framing have on ecosystems, their state, and the future of the region. The relevance of the problem results in the availability of data that can be employed to prove the central assumptions and outline the most significant consequences that should be considered when discussing the question. Under these conditions, the literature review is the most beneficial method to collect and process data linked to the discussed problem.

Camel Grazing

Grazing is a specific method of animal husbandry that is used in various locations. As against other approaches, this one presupposes allowing domestic livestock to remain outdoors to consume plants and other wild vegetation to convert them into meat, milk, wool, and other products vital for the survival of local communities (Zacharias, 2020). Farmers have various strategies of grazing for optimal outcomes and depending on the current climate conditions.

Being one of the most ancient forms of nurturing animals, it has both positive and negative effects on the environment. This includes fertilizing the soils, redistributing nutrients, and supporting specific species and their lifecycle (Zacharias, 2020). At the same time, the adverse effects presuppose overgazing, degradation of soils, destruction of the natural balance, and desertification (Zacharias, 2020). These factors become especially topical regarding existing climate concerns.

For the UAE, camel grazing remains an important activity affecting multiple people. The report shows that in 2017, the number of these animals estimated at 408,000, which is a 50% increase since 2010 (Zacharias, 2020). Compared to historical data, the number of camels in Abu Dhabi is 18 times higher, while the grazing areas reduce because of the high speed of urbanization and the development of the industry (Zacharias, 2020).

It means that the pressure on remaining grazing lands increases significantly, and they start to suffer from adverse effects caused by this activity. Zacharias (2020) says that every camel consumes resources vital for other animals, which limits biodiversity and threatens other species who live in the area. Under these conditions, the problem of desertification and the critical damage done to environments by camel grazing becomes more topical.

Negative Effects

Speaking about the grazing effects, it is vital to outline several issues that should be mentioned. First, it destroys the natural balance in the areas, which serves as the major cause for the emergence and development of new problems (Gallacher & Hill, 2006).

Second, Gallacher and Hill (2006) state that being the primary cause for ecological degradation in the UAE, camel grazing influences perineal plant species and precondition their reduction. Species richness also suffers from the increased number of mammals and their dietary habits (El-Keblawy et al., 2009). Furthermore, it affects the plant community composition of various substrate types and the state of soils. Finally, camel grazing might increase the speed of desertification and aggravate the already existing problems with the problematic climate and the lack of territories for framing. Under these conditions, it is vital to consider these factors and introduce appropriate measures for regulating the aspect and preventing new harm.

Plants

Camels are herbivores, meaning that they have a specific diet impacting their lifestyles and grazing patterns. Usually, they spend most of their time looking for food and regurgitating it from the stomach to chew again. For desert areas, the ability to consume grass, grains, wheat, and oats is critical as it helps to survive; however, it also means that palatable species become endangered as they are attractive to camels and suffer from their eating patterns (Gallacher & Hill, 2006). Researchers show that growth in these mammals resulted in problems with various plants’ vegetation and recovery (Gallacher & Hill, 2006).

Under these conditions, further grazing might cause severer impacts on the area. For instance, investigating the issue, Gallacher and Hill (2006) compare the effects of grazing in Al Maha if camels are replaced by oryx and gazelle species for five years. Results demonstrate significant differences in plants and species. The absence of camels promoted improved regeneration through vegetative reproduction and the growth of existing plants (Gallacher & Hill, 2006). It means that the area has the potential for restoring and tolerating heavy gazing; however, a specific balance is needed (Gallacher & Hill, 2006). It will help to save the number of plants and biodiversity.

Furthermore, the existing research devotes much attention to species diversity regarding camel grazing. El-Keblawy et al. (2009) compare regions of Al Maha Resort (the AMR), and Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (the DDCR) grazed by small antelope and both camels and antelope correspondingly (El-Keblawy et al., 2009). The results show that the DDCR has lower diversity compared to the AMR and is characterized by the absence of palatable plants (El-Keblawy et al., 2009).

It is explained by overgrazing and selective foraging, which have strong effects on the area (El-Keblawy et al., 2009). In such a way, it is possible to outline the direct correlation between camel grazing and plant composition and richness. The increased number of these mammals impacts biodiversity and the reproduction of species vital for different zones.

Another critical factor linked to plants and their condition is the difference between palatable and non-palatable species. Camel grazing presupposes that animals find food themselves, meaning that they become attracted by specific plants. It increases the risk of their complete extinction and inability to restore because of heavy grazing and lack of time for vegetative reproduction. El-Keblawy et al. (2009) use results from the DDCR to show the absence of almost all palatable species under the impact of combined, both camels and antelope grazing.

This type of agricultural activity poses an increased threat to unique plants vital for the biodiversity and environment of the region. The complete disappearance of such plants might shift the natural balance and trigger the extinction of other species residing in the area. In such a way, these effects should be considered to manage the effects of camel grazing.

Desertification

As stated previously, camel grazing is fundamental for desert ecosystems of the UAE, and it is also viewed as the central reason for the ecological degradation in the state. At the moment, desertification affects significant areas and results in wind erosion, urbanization, landfilling, and other anthropogenic factors (Al-Rowaily et al., 2015). However, for the UAE, vegetation loss is one of the critical concerns related to the problem.

Camel grazing and the continuously growing number of these mammals result in the increased stress for areas and their degradation (“Environmental challenges,” n.d.). Following Zacharias (2020), this agricultural activity also damages species, their diversity and reduces the number of plants and their opportunities for vegetative reproduction. For this reason, overgrazing negatively influences vast areas and contributes to the dramatic changes in climate and environment. Vegetation loss can be critical and make lands exhausted and unusable, which will critically damage the whole nation.

Another factor affecting the change of the landscape and deforestation of vast areas is the growing dune instability. Research shows that camels consume plants that fasten sandy soils and help to avoid extra erosion or the increasing destabilization of dunes. In such a way, reducing the diversity and composition leads to new effects (Gallacher & Hill, 2006). Gallacher and Hill (2006) state that the absence of camels in Al Maha provided data showing the signs of localized dune stabilization. The primary cause for this process is the increased vegetative cover, meaning that plants managed to recover from the damage done by overgrazing (Gallacher & Hill, 2006).

In such a way, desertification can be associated with the growing number of camels and the effects they cause on biodiversity and areas. Consideration of this factor is vital for further actions aimed at protecting the environment and focusing on its restoration.

Animals

The information about the effects of camel grazing on other animals living in the same zones is limited. First, deserted lands are not characterized by the diversity of fauna as it demands complex adoption mechanisms and specific food patterns. However, Faye (2016) says that the growing number of camels might be dangerous for other species because of the need for food and the exhaustion of local resources. In other words, the disappearance of palatable animals will result in irreversible changes in local fauna as they will have to move to other areas rich in plants vital for their survival (Faye, 2016).

At the same time, desertification also influences the composition of lands and their biodiversity. For this reason, camel grazing might affect the state of various lands, increase the speed of desertification, and, at the same time, impact the natural habitation of multiple species.

Replacement of Camels and Biodiversity

Considering multiple adverse effects camel grazing has on areas, scientists also discuss the possibility of their replacement with other species and the expected outcome. Thus, Gallacher and Hill (2006) outline that in the AMR, the substitution of camels by antelope influenced the plant community composition and cultivated their increased richness and the ability to recover. It means that protection from camel grazing and the replacement of camels might positively influence various zones and ensure their ability to start restoration (Gallacher & Hill, 2006).

At the same time, the current agricultural needs, traditions, and lifestyle in the UAE make this task almost impossible, meaning that grazing should be controlled to avoid extra exhaustion of lands and ensure they recover (“National archives,” n.d.). More severe rules will preserve or restore biodiversity and help local species to feel more comfortable and avoid extra risks coming from people’s activity.

New Community Composition

Finally, speaking about plants, scientists admit the effect of grazing on community composition and the emergence of some changes. As mentioned previously, palatable species might completely disappear due to overgrazing, meaning that the state of flora will also alter. The number of species on gravel plains, the density of vegetation on dunes, and diversity on the sand and flat areas will also become changed (El-Keblawy et al., 2009).

This data proves the idea that the continuous increase in the number of camels might be dangerous for desert areas of the UAE as the plants vital for the balance might disappear, leaving space for new sorts, less attractive for other animals (El-Keblawy et al., 2009). Under these conditions, it becomes vital to consider the observed alterations and guarantee the appropriate responses if the first signs of critical changes emerge. Otherwise, the fundamental shift in community composition might cause severe damage to the area and promote its degradation.

Positive Effect

Speaking about camel grazing and its effects, it is vital to mention the positive impact of manure. Faye (2016) states that it serves as a potent spreading and fertilizing tool essential for restoring some species. For instance, manure spreads the seeds of the shrub and helps to reduce the rates of desertification. Moreover, the substance can be used for other purposes, including agricultural ones (Faye, 2016). For this reason, camels are important for the stable work of some areas and preservation of the balance as they are elements of the existing cycle (Faye, 2016). However, the rapid growth in their number along with the reduction of areas for grazing minimize this positive impact and introduce new problems that should be solved. However, this influence cannot be disregarded as it is an important aspect of the given process.

Future Perspectives

At the moment, camel grazing cannot be completely prohibited in the UAE as it is the part of its cultural heritage and economy. Moreover, considering the current tendency for the growth in the number of camels annually, specialists predict the further deterioration of the situation and the disappearance of species peculiar to some areas, along with the increased speed of desertification (Faye, 2016). It also means the need to protect lands affected by this problem.

To avoid irreversible changes and stabilize the situation, the solution should presuppose limiting camel grazing and introducing periods for the regions to recover. Following the acquired research data, it will help plants to recover and avoid complete extinction (Faye, 2016). At the same time, zones already characterized by the complex environment, poor diversity, and problematic composition should be excluded from grazing areas to ensure they have time and resources to recover.

The existing body of research also shows that the replacement of camels with other animals, such as antelopes, can contribute to the improvement of the state of the environment. It means that another possible solution might presuppose reconsideration of existing grazing patterns to combine camels with other mammals or shift to other forms of breeding (Faye, 2013). It might help to reduce pressure caused on lands; however, it demands a critical change in people’s mentalities and significant resources to support projects aimed at reducing the number of camels grazed on problematic areas. The given task is complex as it also demands cooperation with farmers depending on this activity and projects to provide them with alternatives vital for their survival and ability to acquire resources needed for supporting the appropriate quality of life.

Conclusion

Altogether, camel grazing remains a critically important activity for the UAE. This mammal provides people with products needed for their survival and well-being. However, the recent tendency towards the increase in the number of camels combined with the reduction of lands due to urbanization makes camel grazing dangerous for local deserts. The literature proves that it might negatively affect plant diversity, community composition, the ability to recover and promote higher deforestation rates. Overgrazing exhausts areas and destroys the balance, which might cultivate new environmental problems.

Using the examples of the Al Maha Resort and Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, researchers show that areas with no camels are characterized by better overall states, plants’ ability to recover, and more stable dunes composition. For this reason, the UAE should consider these factors to find an appropriate solution to the problem to avoid further desertification. It is vital to limit the number of camels, control grazing patterns, and devote more attention to lands suffering from agricultural activity as it is the key to preserving the balance and avoiding critical damage done to nature.

References

Al-Rowaily, S., El-Bana, M., Al-Bakre, D., Assaeed, A., Hegazy, A., & Ali, M. (2015). Effects of open grazing and livestock exclusion on floristic composition and diversity in natural ecosystem of Western Saudi Arabia. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 22(4). Web.

Chaudhary, S. (2015). . Gulf News. Web.

El-Keblawy, A., Ksiksi, T., & El Alqamy, H. (2009). . A. Journal of Arid Environments, 73(3), 347-354. Web.

. (n.d.). U.AE. Web.

Faye, B. (2013). Camel farming sustainability: The challenges of the camel farming system in the XXIth century. Journal of Sustainable Development, 6(12), 74-82. Web.

Faye, B. (2016). . Tropical Animal Health and Production, 48, 689–692. Web.

Gallacher, D., & Hill, J. (2006). . Journal of Arid Environments, 66, 738-750. Web.

Malek, C. (2018). . Arab News. Web.

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Zacharias, A. (2020). . The National News. Web.

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