Tree density and species decline in the African Sahel attributable to climate
Increased aridity and human population have reduced tree cover in parts of the African Sahel and degraded resources for local people. Yet, tree cover trends and the relative importance of climate and population remain unresolved. From field measurements, aerial photos, and Ikonos satellite images, we detected significant 1954–2002 tree density declines in the western Sahel of 18 ± 14% (P = 0.014, n = 204) and 17 ± 13% (P = 0.0009, n = 187). From field observations, we detected a significant 1960–2000 species richness decline of 21 ± 11% (P = 0.0028, n = 14) across the Sahel and a southward shift of the Sahel, Sudan, and Guinea zones. Multivariate analyses of climate, soil, and population showed that temperature most significantly (P < 0.001) explained tree cover changes. Multivariate and bivariate tests and field observations indicated the dominance of temperature and precipitation, supporting attribution of tree cover changes to climate variability. Climate change forcing of Sahel climate variability, particularly the significant (P < 0.05) 1901–2002 temperature increases and precipitation decreases in the research areas, connects Sahel tree cover changes to global climate change. This suggests roles for global action and local adaptation to address ecological change in the Sahel. âº Tree density declined significantly in the western Sahel. âº Tree species richness declined significantly across the Sahel. âº The Sahel, the Sudan, and Guinea ecological zones shifted southward. âº Changes in tree cover are attributable to climate variability and climate change.