Humans reshape wetlands: Unveiling the last 100 years of morphological changes of the Mara Wetland, Tanzania

F. Bregoli*, A. Crosato, P. Paron, M. E. McClain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
96 Downloads (Pure)


The Lower Mara River and Wetland, Tanzania, is an important ecosystem and unique water resource for a vast semi-arid area. The river, an affluent of Lake Victoria, and the wetland are experiencing morphological and vegetation changes resulting in channel avulsions and wetland expansion. This study analyses the changes over the last 100 years and investigates natural and anthropogenic behaviors to explain the increase of the Mara Wetland area. We collated historical topographic maps and satellite images. We conducted two field surveys in low and high flow condition with an unmanned aerial vehicle, a sonar and an ADCP. We mapped selected areas as well as the bed topography in some stretches of the river, measured discharges, and collected river bed and suspended sediment samples. The analysis of the sediments shows that the wetland system, dominated by papyrus sp., is very efficient in trapping sediment, releasing clear water to the Lake Victoria. The historical reconstruction using topographic maps, satellite images and a multivariable analysis including hydrology and land cover, shows that 4 major avulsions occurred in the last 70 years due to a combination of natural behaviors, hydrological fluctuations and anthropogenic factors such as basin deforestation, farming and grazing along the river banks and in the wetland. Each avulsion led to substantial expansion of the wetland. Combined, they increased the wetland area by a factor of 3.6. Describing the Lower Mara River dynamic behavior, this work provides relevant information for sustainable future water and sediment management in order to preserve wetland habitats and natural resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)896-907
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Accepted Author Manuscript


  • East Africa
  • Lake Victoria
  • Mara River
  • River avulsion
  • Wetland expansion
  • Wetland sedimentation


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