Skip to main content

African Sky Forests: services, threats and management recommendations

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AFRI-SKYFOR (African Sky Forests: services, threats and management recommendations)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2019-08-01 do 2020-07-31

Tropical montane forests (TMFs) are biodiversity rich and unique ecosystems which provide water to tens of millions of people, among other services. However, TMFs remain understudied and over-exploited, particularly in Africa. Predicted climatic changes and trends in population growth will negatively affect the ecological functioning and ecosystem service delivery of these already fragile ecosystems.
AFRI-SKYFOR, focused on TMFs in Africa, has provided new information key for understanding and improving the management of these ecosystems. I combined data on multiple ecosystem services (e.g. water, medicinal plants, carbon), ecosystem threat, environmental and socio-economic data, modelling and novel state-of-the-art methodologies (such as agent-based modelling) from the fields of ecology, conservation science and ecosystem valuation to (1) identify and prioritize the ecosystem services generated by African TMF; (2) assess current and future threat presence and severity to these ecosystems; (3) create models of the socio-ecological functioning of African TMF and simulate potential future scenarios; and (4) develop management recommendations for future sustainability.
The main conclusions of the project are: African TMF store important quantities of carbon (150 Mg C per hectare) and provide numerous benefits to local communities, who use and value differently. Results also show that these forests continue to be deforested (0.8 million hectares lost since 2000) and that they are threatened by different drivers. To overcome threats to TMFs, we should combine greater law enforcement, with reducing forest dependency and increasing participatory forest management.
The high scientific quality and applicability has benefited the EU not only by generating new knowledge and six publications in high-profile scientific journals (including Nature) which contribute to the enhancement of EU scientific excellence, but also by contributing to EU commitments within International treaties such as the Aichi Biodiversity targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Objective1 and 2 were completed, objective 3 and objective 4 were partially completed and modified due to pandemic. The researcher has completed scientific training objectives 1-4 and complementary training objectives 1-3.
The most significant findings of the AFRISKYFOR project so far are as follows:
Objective 1: Ecosystem service valuing significantly differs between sites and ethnic groups in both Cameroon and DRC, which is of key importance to decision-makers, as restricted access and regulated extraction of products affects locals’ peoples differently. Our findings also highlight the great value local communities place to their forests, who acknowledge not only provisioning but also regulating services and the aesthetic value of these forests. Ecosystem service valuing also significantly differs between local communities and experts, which is of key importance when designing management interventions at the site level. Our findings on carbon stocks highlight the importance of these forests as carbon sinks (or source if deforested).
Objective 2: Some threats affect most African TMF (e.g. clearing land for agriculture, climatic changes) while others are site-specific (e.g. illegal mining in DRC). Experts’ views generally agree with reported trends at the site level. Results also show that the overlap between existing protected areas and TMF is not sufficient, and that other forms of protection are urgently needed, e.g. community forest management.
Objective 3: Preliminary findings from Mt Oku ABM (Cameroon) indicate that forest protection could provide economic benefits (e.g. honey commercialisation) to local communities even in a drier future. Similar findings were found for Mt Marsabit ABM (Kenya) (e.g. honey, medicinal plants). But this is not the case in Mt Kahuzi ABM (DRC). Further work is needed to determine how context-specific threats (e.g. mining in DRC) underpin possibilities for sustainable management and alternative livelihoods of certain TMF.
Objective 4: To overcome threats to TMFs, experts suggested combining greater law enforcement, reducing forest dependency and increasing participatory forest management. For example, if licensed local hunters could be given a quota that they are responsible for, it would be in their interest to not exceed the quota and to report unlicensed hunters, to help secure the long-term persistence of the wildlife populations on which their livelihoods depend. There is room for sustainable use of selected resources in many protected areas, particularly for wild foods (something which requires site-specific assessments -ongoing).
Dissemination and exploitation of results:
Six publications have been published, including one in the journal Nature. The researcher gave three oral presentations: at Pathways Conference (Colorado, September 2017), Ecosystem Service Partnership Meeting in Africa (Togo, June 2019), and World Biodiversity Forum in Davos (Switzerland, February 2020). The researcher wrote 5 blogs, one non-academic article at ‘The Conversation’ and participated in 3 podcasts. She also participated at science outreach events with general public (Yornight, library public talks at York), and disseminated results back to local communities (Cameroon, DRC) and with mountain experts and regional and other managers of these ecosystems. In terms of exploitation, results were used to e.g. inform management plans of Oku Community Forest or Itombwe Nature Reserve.
This project has significantly improved our understanding of socio-ecological dimensions of TMFs in Africa, by providing exact quantification of different aspects: e.g. African TMF store important quantities of carbon (150 Mg C per hectare) or these forests continue to be deforested (0.8 million hectares lost since 2000). Also on how ethnicity and culture affects forest usage and conservation and the importance of considering those.
Beyond the scientific impact, the socio-economic impact is considerable even on the short term, as results from the project were used to e.g. inform management plans of Oku Community Forest (Cameroon) or Itombwe Nature Reserve (DRC)– in ways which better consider local communities needs and values. Also local students, technicians and park staff contributed to the research and enhanced their scientific capacity and knowledge.
The potential project impacts go beyond the live of the project. As the vegetation data is stored in forestplots database, it can help foster more research on forest dynamics and monitoring. Also, as data was gathered to create more ABM models than initially planned, these will allow for continued research and collaboration with such sites and their communities/researchers/managers. Beyond science, the socio-economic impacts could be multiple and well-beyond case study areas, as e.g. there is now increased interest in carbon finance mechanism for the conservation and restoration of these forests (thanks to new estimates on carbon stocks and deforestation rates published in my Nature paper).
Field team in Itombwe Mountains, DRC