A pioneering series of studies of African savannas reveal deforestation in south-central Africa, driven by rising populations in the aftermath of war as well as an increasing demand for trees for agriculture and fuel, could be reversed with changes to land use.
Led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the scientists analyzed 25 years of satellite data to discover that while forest cover north of the Congo basin has increased, areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique are all seeing a decrease in the number of trees in their forest.
Possible reasons for the deforestation slowdown north of the basin include migration to cities and thus fewer fires, more hunting of large mammals and a reduction in tree destruction in the area, one study reports.
The forests are key, the researchers further explain, to local ecosystem as well as climate change worldwide since forests store carbon in their stems and branches. Furthermore, they add, their continued loss would threaten the livelihood of those populations that call the region their home.
For this reason, the researchers suggest a more strategic approach to managing trees across the continent, which they say could have a positive impact on the changing climate.
"Land use in Africa influences how much its forests can grow -- and their capacity for absorbing carbon emissions," Ed Mitchard, a professor at the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences and the lead author of the studies, explained in a press release. "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."
As a solution, Mitchard and his colleagues suggest that local populations use sustainable fuel instead of charcoal and end the practice of burning forests to support agriculture and livestock.
Going forward, the scientists argue in favor of continue monitoring of the regions, stating that tracking changes in woodlands across the continent would help researchers better understand their effect on weather patterns and improve predictions of global climate change.
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