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Highlight July 2013 - Deforestation rates improving in Africa

IES scientist P. Mayaux was one of the compilers and editors of the latest theme issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B*entitled 'Change in African rainforests: past, present and future', which explores current knowledge about the African rainforests and the threats they face.

The African wet tropics contain the second largest area of tropical rainforest in the world (second only to Amazonia), accounting for roughly 30% of global rainforest cover. This theme issue presents a multidisciplinary perspective on the nature and ecology of the African rainforest biome, for which few studies have been carried out compared with the other major rainforest regions (Amazonia and Southeast Asia), and examines the current pressures and future threats to this biome.

The first article of the issue, which was co-authored by IES scientists P. Mayaux, J.-F. Pekel, B. Desclée, F. Donnay, A. Lupi, F. Achard, M. Clerici, C. Bodart, A. Brink and A. Belward, addresses the ‘State and evolution of the African rainforests between 1990 and 2010’. This article presents a new state-of-the-art map of the current extent of the rainforest biome, and the patterns and drivers of change between 1990 and 2010.

Spatial distribution of the African rainforests
derived from MODIS data

The article shows that deforestation over the Congo Basin, the second largest area of rainforest after the Amazon, has slowed since 2000, compared with the previous decade, with net deforestation falling from an estimated 0.16% per year for the period 1990–2000 to 0.10% per year for the period 2000–2010. These findings are supported by other articles in the issue, and this enormous reduction in deforestation after 2000 is attributed to a better management of forests under timber exploitation and an increased contribution of oil and mineral industries to the income of Congo Basin countries. As each hectare of African rainforest stores about a third more carbon than the typical Amazonian rainforest, this reduction in deforestation is likely to have a bigger impact in reducing emissions than declines elsewhere.

Other articles explore various aspects that are affecting African rainforests, including social and economic factors, woody encroachment, hunting patterns and rates, and explore what knock-on effects these changes may have on forest ecosystem structure, biodiversity and function. A historical perspective on change in the African forest biome is presented, as is the history of climate variation in Africa, and current understanding of climate change and its impacts in this region. The forest ecology of the region is addressed in several articles, which analyse the forest structure and biomass of the region, the impacts and sustainability of logging, and the potential of satellite data to map forest in Central Africa. Finally, several articles explore the opportunities and challenges of climate change mitigation funding initiatives, such as REDD+.

*About Philosophical Transactions

Each fortnightly issue of Philosophical Transactions B is devoted to a specific area of the biological sciences, and aims to define a research frontier that is advancing rapidly, often bridging traditional disciplines. Each issue is guest edited by one or more experts in the field. All contributions are invited and the journal does not accept unsolicited stand-alone papers.


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