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Forest cover in African dry ecosystems – latest results


17.04.2013

A new peer-reviewed article by IES scientists gives the first consistent and robust estimates of forest cover and change in dry Africa with known statistical precision at continental and ecoregion scales. The study highlights the magnitude and intensity of changes in dry African forests, which have potential socio-economic and environmental impacts. It finds that forest loss in the area between 1990 and 2000 has been significantly less than previously reported by FAO’s 2010 Global Forest Resource Assessment. The results reduce the uncertainty regarding vegetation cover and its dynamics in the previously poorly studied Sudanian and Zambezian ecosystems, and provide crucial information for both science and environmental policies.

The article, Continental estimates of forest cover and forest cover changes in the dry ecosystems of Africa between 1990 and 2000, co-authored by the IES and Reggiani, was published as a Special Paper in the Journal of Biogeography (2013).

The world’s largest proportion of dry forest ecosystems is in Africa, and this ecosystem is home to more than half of the continent’s population. The greatest amount of deforestation in Africa occurs in dry forests, which are the most threatened and least protected ecosystem on the continent. Little is known about these ecosystems - information mainly comes from national forestry statistics which often lack accuracy, consistency and completeness.

This study provides the most consistent and accurate estimates to date of land cover and land-cover change from 1990-2000 in African dry forests and woodlands. It is based on Landsat data of 796 sample sites, and has been used in the recently published FRA 2010 Remote Sensing Survey which improves the consistency and comparability of forest area and change statistics at regional, ecozone and global levels. The study finds that, between 1990 and 2000, 3.3 Mha of dense tree cover, 5.8 Mha of open tree cover and 8.9 Mha of other wooded land were lost, with a further 3.9 Mha degraded from dense to open tree cover.

Distribution of sample sites

The study provides accurate estimates of deforestation and degradation rates at continental and ecoregion levels, and a global picture of hotspots of deforestation. These results will help to improve the formulation and effective monitoring of international environmental policies, in particular regarding the estimation of forest carbon fluxes and the impact of forest management policies. They can help improve global biodiversity conservation efforts, the establishment of protected areas and land-cover modelling activities.

 

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