Climate change blamed for dead trees in Africa

Updated: 2011-12-13 09:21

(Xinhua)

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WASHINGTON - Trees are dying in the Sahel, a region in Africa south of the Sahara Desert, and human-caused climate change is to blame, according to a new study led by a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, which is scheduled for publication on December 16 in the Journal of Arid Environments, was based upon climate change records, aerial photos dating back to 1954, recent satellite images and old-fashioned footwork that included counting and measuring over 1,500 trees in the field. The researchers focused on six countries in the Sahel, from Senegal in West Africa to Chad in Central Africa, at sites where the average temperature warmed up by 0.8 degrees Celsius and rainfall fell as much as 48 percent.

They found that one in six trees died between 1954 and 2002. In addition, one in five tree species disappeared locally, and indigenous fruit and timber trees that require more moisture took the biggest hit. Hotter, drier conditions dominated population and soil factors in explaining tree mortality, the authors found. Their results indicate that climate change is shifting vegetation zones south toward moister areas.

"In the western US, climate change is leading to tree mortality by increasing the vulnerability of trees to bark beetles, " said study lead author Patrick Gonzalez. "In the Sahel, drying out of the soil directly kills trees. Tree dieback is occurring at the biome level. It's not just one species that is dying; whole groups of species are dying out."