Woody encroachment and forest degradation in sub-Saharan Africa's woodlands and savannas 1982-2006

Edward T.A. Mitchard, Clara M. Flintrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We review the literature and find 16 studies from across Africa’s savannahs and woodlands where woody encroachment dominates. These small-scale studies are supplemented by an analysis of a long-term vegetation index (normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI) dataset (global inventory modelling and mapping studies dataset). Using dry-season data to separate the tree and grass signals, we find 4.0 per cent of non-rainforest woody vegetation in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding West Africa) significantly increased in NDVI from 1982 to 2006, whereas 3.52 per cent decreased. The increases in NDVI were found predominantly to the north of the Congo basin, with decreases concentrated in the Miombo woodland belt. We hypothesize that
areas of increasing dry-season NDVI are undergoing woody encroachment, but the coarse resolution of the study and uncertain relationship between NDVI and woody cover mean that the results should be interpreted with caution; certainly, these results do not contradict studies finding widespread deforestation throughout the continent. However, woody encroachment could be widespread, and warrants further investigation as it has important consequences for the global carbon cycle and land–climate interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20120406
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1625
Early online date22 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2013

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