The Taita Hills provide a fascinating setting and excellent opportunities for academic studies on various disciplines.

Taita Hills are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains that range from southeastern Kenya to eastern Tanzania. The montane forests of this region represent one of the biodiversity hotspots in the World. The high degree of endemism is the result of several features in geological and climatic history (e.g. the crystalline mountains are ancient, the forests are over 30 million years old, the local forests have long evolved in effective isolation from other moist forests, and the moist forests have provided refugio for many forest species during dry climatic spells in the past).

Taita Hills rise abruptly from the surrounding plain and the relatively cool moist air windborne from the Indian Ocean often surrounds them in cloud and mist, especially around the summits. This provides the local forests with favourable conditions for the development of a diverse lichen and bryophyte flora. The montane forest fragments act as "water towers" by intercepting and retaining cloud water and provide hydrological ecosystem service to the surrounding plains. Water's Journey (Veden matka in Finnish) documentary presents more information about this important phenomenon.

The Stack (Pinkka) provides information on the flora and vegetation of East Africa focusing especially on the biodiversity (both flora and fauna) of Taita Hills and surrounding lowlands. This e-learning environment is produced and maintained by the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences and the Finnish Museum of Natural History. It offers a large database of photos and texts helpful in species identification.

The Stack pages shall provide pictures and descriptions of local plant, lichen and bryophyte species as well as of animal species of Taita lowlands. Information about local food plants and species of economic or other human interest can also be found.

Geography of the Taita Hills

Physical geography

The Taita Hills (03 25’ S and 38 20’ E)  are ancient Precambrian hills which form the northermost part of the Eastern Arc Mountains. The forests in the Eastern Arc Mountains are classified as one of the world’s 34 most important biodiversity hotspots. The topography of the Taita Hills ranges from 700 m to 2,208 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.)

The Taita Taveta County comprises of two distinct topographical areas: Tsavo Plains, at an altitude of 400 in the east to 1,000 m.a.s.l. in the west, and the mountainous Taita Hills at 1,200-2,200 m.a.s.l. Several inselbergs characterize the lowlands, the highest being Kasigau mountain reaching 1,600 m and hosting three square km of intact mountain cloud forest. The highest peak in the Coast Region is located in the Taita Hills, namely Vuria (2,208 m), but several peaks between 1,600 and 2,200 m with indigenous or exotic forest cover or bare gneiss rock characterize the landscape. Indigenous mountain rain forest fragments on the hills accommodate a variety of endemic and threatened flora and fauna not recognizable elsewhere in Africa. 

The Taita Taveta County is the first county in Kenya to complete the Forestry Transition Program for devolved functions of forestry since it started in 2014.  The County now has management rights to 44 out of 68 forests that were previously managed by the Kenya Forest Service.

62% of the land area of Taita Taveta County is designated under the Tsavo East and the Tsavo West National Parks.

Human geography

In 2019, the population of the Taita Taveta County was 340,671, and the average household size was 3.5. The intercensal population growth is 1.97% which is slightly below the national average (2.2%). The average population density in the county was 20 persons per km2 but varies highly between the sub-counties. The population density is highest in Taita sub-county (117 persons per km2), which covers most of the mountainous areas (Kenya National Bureau of Standards 2019).

Approximately 57.2% of the population is absolute poor and live by less than Kenyan shilling 1,562 per month in the Taita Taveta County. The unemployment rate is high, about 45% of the total labor force.

Agriculture is the main source of income for 78% of people in the County. Most of them are small-scale farmers who practice rain fed agriculture for subsistence purposes. Maize and beans are the main staple crop produces by the smallholder farmers. Other commonly grown staple crops are green grams, sorghum, cowpeas, pigeon peas, cassava and sweet potatoes. The average farm size is smallest in the highlands (0.4 ha) of the Taita Hills, translating into low yield per unit area for most farming households. The average farm size increases towards the semi-arid lowlands (4.8 ha) and is 1.5 ha in the midlands. (Taita Taveta County Government 2013).

The population has doubled within 30 years and the highest growth rates are reported among the younger age groups. The pressure on land also results in increased human-wildlife conflicts as well as land use disputes between farmers and managers of sisal plantations and national parks. Small-scale farming for subsistence purposes has been the main reason for forest clearance in the hills. Simultaneously, exotic forests of eucalyptus, pine and cypress have been planted on rocky and barren lands.

Annual Master's thesis award

Every year, the Advisory Board of the Taita Research Station nominates an annual award and certificate for the best master's degree thesis completed in the University of Helsinki on any topic studied in the Taita Taveta County, Kenya. The award is a wood carving from Kenya (a figure of a male/female Maasai person) which is handed to the author of the awarded thesis for one full calendar year to keep. Award-winning theses are indicated with (*) on the list below.

Supervisor(s) should send the names of their nominees for the Taita Research Station master's degree award with a link to the thesis manuscript to the coordinator of research station via email by mid-October.


Master's theses

The following master's theses have utilized the facilities and services of the Taita Research Station:

Pesonen, Linda (2023). Modelling dry season grass biomass in savanna rangelands in Kenya using imaging spectroscopy. Faculty of Science.

Korpelainen, Taiga (2023). Spatio-temporal dynamics of grass cover in savanna rangelands in Kenya based on multi-resolution remote sensing data. Faculty of Science.

Haurinen, Hanna (2023). Monitoring canopy height changes in tropical montane forests and exotic plantations in the Taita Hills, Kenya using airborne laser scanning. Faculty of Science.

Joseph Kombe, Samuel (2023). Machine learning algorithm to detect impersonation in an essay-based e-exam. Taita Taveta University, Kenya.

Lape, Okoth Augustine (2023). Assessment of changes in land cover and environmental impact of the standard gauge railway from Nairobi terminus to Kiambu County in Kenya. Taita Taveta University, Kenya.

Witting, Ossian (2023). Behavioural and abundance differences in nocturnal primate Otolemur garnettii lasiotis in a town and forest of Taita Hills, Kenya. Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

Kaarto, Elli-Nora (2023). Changes in agroforestry in the Taita Hills, Kenya, based on multitemporal airborne laser scanning data. Faculty of Science.

Cardozo, Dahiana Rocio Gamarra (2022). Assessment of the spring resilience to drought under different landuse type in Taita Hills, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands.

Hirvonen, Hanna (2022). Assessing the influence of megafauna on multi-scale structural woody vegetation features in East African savannas using terrestrial and airborne laser scanning. Faculty of Science.

Khan, Abdul Hadi Al Nafi (2022). Assessing the recharge areas and groundwater flow systems of the Taita Hill springs in Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands.

Kihungu, Rose (2022). Mapping Prosopis juliflora Aboveground Biomass Using Remote Sensing in Taveta Sub-County, Kenya. Department of Geospatial and Space Technology, University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Kivistö, Kanerva (2022). Krimin-Kongon verenvuotokuume Keniassa. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Mulondo, Ivan (2022). Contribution of livestock bomas to nutrient pollution and microbial fecal contamination of aquatic systems, Taita-Taveta County, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands.

Mwende, Bobsammy Munioki (2022). Comparative assessment of the impact of land cover change and climate variability on groundwater recharge - A remote sensing approach in Taita Hills catchment in Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands.

Omuron, Oswald (2022). Greenhouse gas emissions from two prominent features of livestock managements systems: Waterpans and bomas in pastoral and agro-pastoral systems in Taita-Taveta County, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands

Tolvanen, Pinja (2022). Design-based research: Supporting high school GIS education with a research-based learning activity. Faculty of Science.

Viertola, Julia (2022). Livelihood Aspirations of Maasai Women Amid Systemic Change in Pastoralism. Faculty of Science.

Aroalho, Sari (2021). Culture and the creative economy as builders of society in Kenya. Faculty of Science.

Laasonen, Asta (2021). Biogenic carbon monoxide fluxes in four terrestrial ecosystems. Faculty of Science.

Vedder, Daniel (2021). Evolutionary Rescue by Introgressive Hybridisation in Zosterops. Faculty of Biology, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany.

Aalto, Iris (2020). Assessing the cooling impact of tree canopies in an intensively modified tropical landscape. (*) Faculty of Science.

Manninen, Petra (2020). Soil respiration around termite mounds in African semi-arid savanna. Faculty of Science.

Namata, Bright (2020). Microbial source tracking of faecal pollution in the water sources of Taita-Taveta County: Relationship between faecal pollution specific to livestock or humans and human related public health risks. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands.

Parviainen, Anna (2020). Sticta-suvun jäkälien fotobionttien geneettinen monimuotoisuus Kenian Taitavuorilla. Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

Szeto, Usko (2020). Ihmistoiminnan ja korkeusvaihtelun vaikutukset sammakkoeläinten laji- ja yksilömääriin Kenian Taitavuorilla. Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

Sädekoski, Niklas (2020). Tropical altitudinal gradient soil organic carbon estimation with VIS-NIR (400-1000 nm) imaging spectroscopy. Faculty of Science.

Vuorinne, Ilja (2020). Assessing Agave sisalana biomass from leaf to plantation level using field measurements and multispectral satellite imagery. (*) Faculty of Science.

Waiswa, Michael (2020). Effects of livestock on carbon and nitrogen fluxes and storage in watering pans of semi-arid areas: Taita-Taveta County, Kenya. Limnology and Wetland Management, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands.

Bisia, Collins Muhadia (2019). Effects of livestock on water quality and the related health risks in Taita Hills, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands.

Gachibu, Elizabeth Wangari (2019). Greenhouse gas emission from livestock water pans and water points along tropical streams in Taita Hills, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands.

Gubamwoyo, Sharon (2019). Greenhouse gas emissions from rivers in Taita Hills, Kenya. IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands.

Leppäniemi, Elina (2019). Termiittikekojen kemiallisen ja mineralogisen koostumuksen suhde kekojen väriin ja kekoja ympäröivään maaperään ja kallioperään Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuaryn alueella Etelä-Keniassa. Faculty of Science.

Oyedayo, Oyelowo (2019). Spatiotemporal Modelling of Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting with LiDAR Data in the Taita Hills, Kenya. (*) Faculty of Science.

Palosaari, Maiju (2019). Vulnerability to Climate Change: Gender analysis of smallholder farmers’ contextual vulnerability: A case study in Taita Hills. (*) Faculty of Science.

Salla, Anni (2019). Weather and climate information services in subsistence agriculture : farmers’ experiences on the adequacy of these services in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Faculty of Science.

Autio, Antti (2018). Transnational road project and regional development: Expectations of regional administration and realized impacts. Case study in Taita Taveta County, Kenya. Faculty of Science.

Karvonen, Veera (2018). Elephants in Taita Taveta County, Kenya: analysing and predicting the distribution

Onyancha, Brenda Monchari (2018). Crop diversification using improved sweet potato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.] varieties as an adaptation strategy to climate varibility by subsistence farmers in Taita Hills, Kenya. Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Tanila-Pellikka, Kristiina (2018). Koulutuksen merkitys matkalla toivottuun tulevaisuuteen: Tapaustutkimus tulevaisuuskuvista suomalaisten ja kenialaisten nuorten kuvaamina. Faculty of Education, Tampere University.

Cardwell, Amanda (2017). The effect of land use on infiltration in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Martikainen, Noora (2017). Carbon isotope and elemental composition of sedimentary carbonate rocks in the Kurase group, Taita Hills, South Kenya.

Newman, Rebecca (2017). Land use and climate interactions and impacts on beekeeping livelihoods across scales of change in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Environment Department, University of York, UK.

Nousiainen, Anni (2017). Leaf litter ants in indigenous rainforest and coniferous plantations of the Taita Hills, Kenya. (*)

Pagh-Schlegel, Ole (2017). Farm forestry and the forest transition. A case study of smallholder farmers' motivation to practice farm forestry in a highland area of southern Kenya. Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Uusitalo, Ruut (2017). Modeling the spatial distribution of Culex and Stegomyia mosquitoes collected in the Taita Hills, Kenya in 2016, with notes on other genera.

Vento, Eero (2017). Divergent objectives of protected area management: Impacts on territorial tourism development in Taita Taveta County, Kenya.

Äärilä, Sakari (2017). Species distribution models explaining human-wildlife conflicts in Taita Taveta County, Kenya.

Hietanen, Jesse (2016). Predicting Soil Organic Carbon and Nitrogen Content Using Airborne Laser Scanning in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Kuronen,Toini (2016). Primates on Farms – Perceived Human-Wildlife Conflicts around Ngangao Indigenous Cloud Forest, Taita Hills, Kenya.

Motaroki, Lilian (2016). Assessment of Conservation Agriculture as an Adaptation Option to Climate Change in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Mwang'ombe, Mwamodenyi James (2016). Understanding the socio-economic dynamics in rural households in Taita Kenya that influence choice and adoption of alternative livelihood options. School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, U.K.

Viinikka, Arto (2016). Mapping Individual Tree Species Using Airborne Imaging Spectroscopy and Laser Scanning Data in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Arcaro, Anthony (2015). Athmospheric Deposition and Canopy Interactions in Afromontane Forests in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Broas, Jessica (2015). Mapping above-ground biomass of trees outside forests in the Taita hills, Kenya, using airborne laser scanning and individual tree detection.

Heikinheimo, Vuokko (2015). Impact of land change on aboveground carbon stocks in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Luvonga, Eric (2015). Diversity and Pollination Activity of Flower Visiting Insects Associated with Avocado along the Slopes of Taita Hills in Kenya. Department of Biological Sciences, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya.

Räsänen, Marinka (2015). Political economy and ecology of water control –dynamics of water policy reform and water justice in Taita Hills, South-Eastern Kenya. Department of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Jyväskylä.

Schäfer, Elisa (2015). Tree species diversity estimation using airborne imaging spectroscopy.

Stam, Åsa (2015). The growth and biomass increase of bryophyte and lichen transplants in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Virtanen, Elina (2015). Fine-resolution climate grids for species distribution studies in data-poor regions.

Andersson, Matias (2014). Assessing the Cultural Potential of Ecological Sanitation in Improving Waste Management and Food Security in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Piiroinen, Rami (2014). Classification of agricultural crops of the Taita Hills, Kenya using airborne AisaEAGLE imaging spectroscopy data.

Tuomaala, Emilia (2014). Exploring people's perceptions of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Achola, Sarah Murabula (2013). Assessment of the Potential for Integration of Ecosystem Based Approaches and Local Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Adaptation in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Department of Meteorology, University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Kivivuori, Belinda (2013). The local perception on changes in water availability and accessibility in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Laakso, Janita (2013). Influence of Topography and Land Use on Physical Soil Properties at the Wundanyi Catchment Area in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Itkonen, Pekka (2012). Estimating leaf area index and aboveground biomass by empirical modeling using SPOT HRVIR satellite imagery in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Jauhiainen, Kaisa (2012). The diversity of Coccocarpia and their cyanobionts in the Taita Hills and Mount Kasigau, Kenya.

Kolu, Nina (2012). Modelling least-cost corridors to increase indigenous forest patch connectivity in Taita Hills, Kenya.

Pöytäniemi, Sini (2012). Predicting soil erosion with universal soil loss equation using GIS and remote sensing. A case study in Taita Hills, South Eastern Kenya.

Ruuska, Eeva (2012). The significance and sustainability of charcoal production in the changing landscape of Dakatcha woodland, SE-Kenya.

Saarikko, Janne (2012). Kaukokartoitus kansainvälisessä kriisinhallinnassa – IKONOS- ja SPOT -satelliittikuvat tiestön kartoituksessa Kenian Taita Tavetan piirikunnassa.

Zschauer, Karoliina (2012). Households’ energy supply and the use of firewood in the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Tuovinen, Veera (2011). Leptogium species in Taita Hills and the genetic diversityof their cyanobionts.

Van de Loock, Dries (2011). Variatie in sociale structuur in gefragmenteerde populaties van de Cabanis’s greenbul (Phyllastrephus cabanisi) in zuid-oost Kenia. University of Ghent.

Boström, Mårten (2010). The utilization of GPS in orienteering mapping in urban Helsinki and suburban Kenya.

Gama, José (2009). Taita Hills MySQL database, and performing analysis with the statistics package R.

Msagha, Johanna (2008). Population development in Taita Taveta – A comparative study to national demographic trends.

Ruotsalainen, Anna (2008). Enhancing local livelihoods in Taita Hills, Kenya: Indigenous tree species as part of farmers’ livelihoods and environmental rehabilitation.

Vanonen, Juuso (2008). The conflicts of land in Taita Taveta District, Kenya.

Keskinen, Antero (2007). Mapping road infrastructure in developing countries applying remote sensing and GIS – the case of the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Lanne, Milla (2007). Monitoring indigenous tropical montane forests in the Taita Hills using airborne digital camera imagery (pdf).

Himberg, Nina (2006). Community-based ecotourism as a sustainable development option: Case of the Taita Hills, Kenya.

Mäkelä, Miika (2006). Aerial photograph segmentation methods in agroforestry studies in Uganda.

Hurskainen, Pekka (2005). Change detection of urban areas in SW-Kenya using airborne and spaceborne remote sensing data (pdf).

Masalin, Katja (2005). Land use change detection in the Taita Hills, Kenya applying aerial photography and SPOT XS satellite data (pdf).

Hermunen, Taru (2004). Land use policy in Kenya – experiences from Taita Taveta district (pdf).

Vilkuna, Johanna (1991). Epävirallinen talous: voimavara Kenian alueellisessa kehityksessä?

Virtanen, Aija (1991). Kenian metsien kohtalo – monimuotoisista metsistä erillisiksi metsäsaarekkeiksi.

Ollikainen, Päivi (1990). Pientilallisten mahdollisuudet maidontuotannon tehostamiseen Taitavuorilla, Keniassa.

Pellikka, Petri (1990). Land Use and its Classification Using a Multispectral Spot XS Satellite Image in the Taita Hills, SE-Kenya.

Raitis, Riikka (1990). Population growth and fertility in Kenya and a case study of the Taita-Taveta District.

Teinilä, Yrjö (1990). Maaperäeroosio luonnon riskitekijänä Taita Hillsillä Keniassa. Paikallisen väestön näkökulma.

Bachelor's theses

Rikkinen, Aleksi (2020). Termiittikekojen kaukokartoitus Afrikan savanniekosysteemeissä.

Hirvonen, Hanna (2019). Fixing elephant-induced damage: the effect of reforestation on woody plant diversity in Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Kenya.

Mwanyolo, Rebecca (2019). The effect of sustainability and resilience research approach on tourism: a case study of Taita Hills. Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Kenyatta University, Kenya.

Tolvanen, Pinja (2019). Peltometsäviljelyn rooli ilmastonmuutoksen hillinnässä ja siihen sopeutumisessa. Menetelmän hyödyntäminen Afrikassa.

Manninen, Petra (2017). Maaperän respiraatio savanniekosysteemeissä.

Helle, Joose (2016). Lentolaserkeilaus ja hemisfäärikuvaus metsikkösadannan tutkimisessa Taitavuorilla Keniassa.