A more strategic approach to managing trees across the
continent could have a positive impact on the changing climate, researchers
A pioneering study of African savannas by the University of
Edinburgh has revealed deforestation in south-central Africa, driven by rising
populations in the aftermath of war, and increasing demand for trees for
agriculture and fuel.
This loss of forests threatens the ecosystem and the
livelihood of populations. Scientists suggest that the situation could be
alleviated by using sustainable fuel instead of charcoal, and ending the
practice of burning forests to support agriculture and livestock.
Loss of trees could impact on climate change, as forests
store carbon in their stems and branches, helping to reduce the amount of harmful
carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Tracking changes in woodland across the
continent may help scientists better understand their effect on weather
patterns, and improve predictions of global climate change.
The study identified a north-south divide – while most
forests and woodlands in the south are losing tree cover, many north of the
equator are gaining trees. The worst affected areas are the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique.
Increase in forest cover north of the Congo basin might have
been caused by migration to cities, resulting in fewer fires, and more hunting
of large mammals, reducing tree destruction.
Researchers analysed studies of tree cover in African
savannas, and combined this with a 25 year record from satellite data. The
study, supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, was published
inPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Dr Ed Mitchard, of the University of Edinburgh's School of
GeoSciences, who led the study, said: "Land use in Africa influences how
much its forests can grow – and their capacity for absorbing carbon emissions.
If humans reduce burning and cutting forests and savannas these will grow and
help to limit the impact of carbon emissions, but instead in many places people
are impacting more on woodlands and forests, adding to carbon emissions."