Forest ecosystems are increasingly under threat from climate and land use changes and degradation. Conservation and sustainable use strategies could include the diversification of agricultural landscapes, restoration of degraded landscapes and conservation of areas of high biodiversity value. Key to these adaptation strategies is the identification of conservation priorities and better utilization of valuable tree species in and outside forests. This requires the selection of well-adapted species. For most tree species in Eastern Africa, there is limited information available on their suitability for use in different environments. However, dynamic species suitability distribution maps for large number of species can be inferred from the distribution of vegetation types and their species assemblages, using high resolution global environmental data sets, derived geospatial data such as topographic indices and new habitat distribution modelling approaches. Moreover, these maps can project changes of habitat and species distributions under specific climate change models. Key research questions are: (i) how can spatial suitability models help to predict changes in vegetation and tree species distribution under different climate change scenarios and (ii) how can conservation and sustainable use strategies under current and future climates be improved in eastern Africa?
Completion Report - Summary:
Eastern Africa has a wide range of rich natural habitats, which offer invaluable services and products. These habitats and their species are, however, under pressure due to land use changes, human population pressure, and projected climate changes. To develop ‘futureprove’ conservation and sustainable use strategies for these habitats and species, we need to answer such question as ‘where can we find what habitat or species?’, ‘how well species and ecosystems are currently protected?’ and ‘how will this change under future climates?’.
In the present study, we combined high resolution maps of the natural vegetation of eastern Africa, data representing key environmental and anthropogenic factors and statistical modelling techniques to assess the current conservation status of the natural vegetation in eastern Africa and the potential impact of climate changes on the future natural habitats.
Results show that there are substantial differences in how well vegetation types are 4 of 14 represented within the protected areas of eastern Africa and how much they are under pressure by human activities. At the same time, habitats in large parts of the region are vulnerable for projected changes in the climate, fundamentally altering the options for conservation and sustainable use of the natural resources in these areas. These idiosyncratic patterns imply that effective conservation planning and actions require detailed spatial analyses to identify both problems and opportunities in a complex regional and local socio-ecological context. The present study provides new means for such analyses, to assess the impact of projected changes in climate on habitat and species distributions in eastern Africa, and to identify priority areas for future research and conservation actions.