African deforestation not as great as feared

December 11, 2017

The loss of forests in Africa in the past century is substantially less than previously estimated, an analysis of historical records and paleontology evidence by Yale researchers shows.

Previous estimates put deforestation at 35% to 55% on the continent since 1900. The new analysis estimates closed-canopy forests have shrunk by 21.7%, according to findings published Dec. 11 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. However, research also shows that some West and East African forests have been reduced between 80% and 90%.

Earlier surveys incorrectly labelled ancient savannas as newly deforested regions, said A. Carla Staver, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the study.

The new analysis should help focus conservation efforts in Africa, she said.

"There is a global effort to increase the number of trees that can trap carbon," Staver said. "In Africa, it would make the most sense to focus these efforts in areas that have truly been deforested rather than in areas which have long been savannas."

Staver and former Yale postdoc Julie C. Aleman, now at the University of Montreal, used traditional sources such as early 20th-century European maps to estimate the extent of African forests in 1900. But the team also cross-checked the documents with paleontological records -- including pollen, leaf parts known as phytoliths, and charcoal preserved in lake sediment and soil -- to reconstruct the historical ecology of tropical regions of Africa.

The single greatest contributor to continental deforestation was conversion of forests in West African countries including Ghana and Sierra Leone. However, the team also found that forests had actually expanded in Central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic.

"As conservationists, it is easy to look at this study as good news -- that deforestation isn't as bad as we thought," Staver said. "The bad news is that central African forests have been spared because violent conflicts have prevented economic development, at the costs of human lives and livelihoods."
-end-
Aleman is lead author of the study and Yale's Mart Jarzyna is a co-author.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Seessel Fund, and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

Yale University

Related Ecology Articles from Brightsurf:

Enriching research in ecology and evolution through nine 'flavors' of history
In a recent article in The Quarterly Review of Biology, ''Beyond Equilibria: The Neglected Role of History in Ecology and Evolution,'' author Hamish G.

The ecology of crop pests
Ecological theory provides insights on pesticide use in agriculture

Crabs are key to ecology and economy in Oman
The intertidal mudflats of Barr Al Hikman, a nature reserve at the south-east coast of the Sultanate Oman, are crucial nursery grounds for numerous crab species.

Media tip sheet: Going high-tech in ecology
These presentations feature ecological research that harnesses high-tech advances in new and exciting ways.

Population ecology: Origins of genetic variability in seals
A new study led by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers shows that fluctuations in population sizes in the past have had a significant effect on contemporary seal populations, and estimates the risk of genetic impoverishment in the species investigated.

Gut ecology
For something that has evolved with us over millions of years, and remains part of our physiology over our entire lives, our gut microbiome, oddly, remains somewhat of a mystery.

Best of frenemies: Unexpected role of social networks in ecology
Social networking, even between competing species, plays a much bigger role in ecology than anyone previously thought, according to three biologists at UC Davis.

Decades-old puzzle of the ecology of soil animals solved
An international research team led by the University of Goettingen has deciphered the defence mechanism of filamentous fungi.

Astro-ecology: Counting orangutans using star-spotting technology
A groundbreaking scientific collaboration is harnessing technology used to study the luminosity of stars, to carry out detailed monitoring of orangutan populations in Borneo.

New study sheds light on the ecology of investors in financial markets
Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland, and the University of Palermo, Italy, studied the similarity of investment decisions in the financial market and how the investment strategies used by the investors influence the volatility of the markets by using an exceptionally large set of empirical data.

Read More: Ecology News and Ecology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.