Drivers of woody plant encroachment over Africa

Journal: Nature Communications

Published: 2018-06-11

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04616-8

Affiliations: 2

Authors: 3

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Research Highlight

March of the shrubberies

© DavidCallan/Getty

© DavidCallan/Getty

Woody plants are on the march across Africa, rooting themselves in grasslands and savannas.

Deforestation has been widely studied, but the spread of small trees and shrubs (woody plants) onto non-forested lands is less well documented. Researchers from the University of Cape Town used 30 years of high-resolution satellite imagery covering sub-Saharan Africa to see how vegetation cover had changed. They found that woody plant cover had increased by 8% in this region, and that over half of all typically grassy landscapes had been occupied by trees or bushes during this time. The team suggest that reduced agricultural burning, fewer browsing animals that nibble on taller plants, and warmer, wetter climates could be behind this trend.

Understanding the cause and effects of increased woody plant cover will help local decision makers plan how to manage and, where necessary, prevent its spread.

Supported content

  1. Nature Communications 9, 2272 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-04616-8
Institutions FC
UCT Department of Biological Sciences, South Africa 0.83
Conservation South Africa (CSA), South Africa 0.17

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