Why The Future Of Africa's Forests And Savannas Is Under Threat

Why The Future Of Africa's Forests And Savannas Is Under Threat Tropical forests in the Congo for example have exceptionally high animal and plant species. Shutterstock

Tropical Africa has two distinct features – rain forests which are dominated by trees and savannas which are dominated by grasses. Both depend on rainfall quantity and seasonality. Seasonality measures how constant the distribution of rainfall over the course of a year is – in other words how long the dry season is.

Forests located close to the Equator receive lots of rainfall constantly over the year, while savannas receive less rainfall and only during the wet season.

Forests and savannas are expected to be strongly affected in the coming decades by changing rainfall patterns, including increased dry periods and decreasing annual rainfall. These changes are already being felt. In some areas of Burkina Faso desertification is increasing, while in Chad rainfall is increasing. These changes are being linked to climate change across the world.

Forests and savannas are expected to be affected greatly by these changes because they depend heavily on rainfall quantity and seasonality.

Forests and savannas are important ecosystems

Savannas and forests function very differently but they are important ecologically and economically. They sustain a lot of plant and wildlife. Tropical forests have exceptionally high animal and plant species. They also play a crucial role in regulating the global climate, for example by storing lots of carbon. And people make a living off forests.

Most of sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture takes place in savanna areas which support most of the continent’s cropland and pasture areas. Importantly, savannas such as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are also home to the largest animal populations on Earth.

But future changes in the climate could have an impact on these symbolic landscapes. For example, decreasing rainfall in forest areas, and increasing number of droughts, may cause trees to die. In savanna areas, more rain may increase tree growth and cover.

The way people are using the land can also have a big impact on forests and savannas. For example changing agricultural practices toward intensification and conversion of very large areas to cropland has been shown to have a major impact. Thus, conservation efforts need to start taking into account the effects of climate change as well as the potential impact of agricultural conversion to target forests and savannas that are at greatest risk.

The ecological importance of fire

The Congo Basin is Africa’s main tropical forest block covering more than 178 million hectares – a third of the size of the Amazon. Tropical forests are also present in East and West Africa but in smaller areas. Trees in these tropical forests are very sensitive to disturbances such as fires which are exacerbated by droughts. Indeed, increasing drought can enable fires to spread from savannas into the adjacent forests. This is what happened during the massive wildfire in the Congo Basin in January 2016.

Why The Future Of Africa's Forests And Savannas Is Under Threat savannas need [disturbances like fire. Shutterstock

For their part, savannas need disturbances like fire but repeated fires limit the number of trees, and thus the tree cover, and promotes biodiversity.

Responding to climate change and land use

The prediction is that rainfall will increase in some savanna areas of Central African Republic. This will lead to an increase in tree cover within savannas. If not compensated by fire landscape opening, this tree cover increase could be an issue because it would limit the quantity of grasses accessible for livestock and wild herbivores.

The predictions for the drier regions are more variable. In some areas of the Sahelian region, like Chad, it’s predicted that rainfall will increase, similarly leading to an increase in tree cover. But this is likely to have a positive effect because it will mean more productivity for grasses and trees. In other areas, like in Burkina Faso, the length of the dry season may increase which could drive desertification.

In the case of the Congo Basin, an increase in seasonality could lead to a decrease in tree cover because it’s likely to limit tree growth and increase tree mortality.

But climate change is not the only threat that forests and savannas are facing. The way people are using these two ecosystems is also having an impact. For example, new development policies suggest that more savanna areas should be targeted for biofuel production.

Future simulations suggest that increasing cropland and pastureland by 2070 will modify tree cover in both forests and savannas more than climate change. Environmental policies are crucial because they have the power to influence where large conversions to agriculture take place. This is particularly important for areas of low population densities and where agricultural practices are still traditional, as in the Central African Republic.The Conversation

About The Author

Julie C. Aleman, Postdoctoral research associate working on savanna and forest distribution, Yale University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

EVIDENCE

Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
wind turbines
A controversial US book is feeding climate denial in Australia. Its central claim is true, yet irrelevant
by Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science, Griffith University
My heart sank last week to see conservative Australian commentator Alan Jones championing a contentious book about…
image
Reuters' Hot List of climate scientists is geographically skewed: why this matters
by Nina Hunter, Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of KwaZulu-Natal
The Reuters Hot List of “the world’s top climate scientists” is causing a buzz in the climate change community. Reuters…
A person holds a shell in their hand in blue water
Ancient shells hint past high CO2 levels could return
by Leslie Lee-Texas A&M
Using two methods to analyze tiny organisms found in sediment cores from the deep seafloor, researchers have estimated…
image
Matt Canavan suggested the cold snap means global warming isn't real. We bust this and 2 other climate myths
by Nerilie Abram, Professor; ARC Future Fellow; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes; Deputy Director for the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, Australian National University
Senator Matt Canavan sent many eyeballs rolling yesterday when he tweeted photos of snowy scenes in regional New South…
Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans
by Tim Radford
Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the…
Why Sea Otters Are Climate Warriors
Why Sea Otters Are Climate Warriors
by Zak Smith
In addition to being one of the cutest animals on the planet, sea otters help maintain healthy, carbon-absorbing kelp…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.