land cover/land use change; satellite imagery; endemic fish; cichlid; climate change impact
Freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened on Earth, facing environmental and anthropogenic pressures often surpassing their terrestrial counterparts. Land use and land cover change (LUCC) such as degradation and fragmentation of the terrestrial landscape negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. Satellite imagery allows for an impartial assessment of the past to determine habitat alterations. It can also be used as a forecasting tool in the development of species conservation strategies through models based on ecological factors extracted from imagery. In this study, we analyze Landsat time sequences (1984–2015) to quantify LUCC around three freshwater ecosystems with endemic cichlids in Tanzania. In addition, we examine population growth, agricultural expansion, and climate change as stressors that impact the habitats. We found that the natural vegetation cover surrounding Lake Chala decreased from 15.5% (1984) to 3.5% (2015). At Chemka Springs, we observed a decrease from 7.4% to 3.5% over the same period. While Lake Natron had minimal LUCC, severe climate change impacts have been forecasted for the region. Subsurface water data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite observations further show a decrease in water resources for the study areas, which could be exacerbated by increased need from a growing population and an increase in agricultural land use.