Scientists warn of dramatic impact of climate change on Africa

Jun 09, 2005

Scientists at the University of York are warning that dramatic changes may soon occur in Africa’s vegetation in response to global warming.
They believe the effect may be on a similar scale to the climatic disruption in the last Ice Age and the African forest decline 2,500 years ago.
Scientists in the University’s Environment Department studied the likely impact of future climate fluctuations on the continent by modelling the responses of more than 5000 plant species to predicted climate changes.

Dr Jon Lovett, who led the research, said: “The results were extraordinary – plants migrate out of the Congo rainforests and there is a massive intensification of drought in the Sahel. Other areas particularly hard hit are eastern Africa and the south-west coast.”

Because of a scarcity of hard data, the team used a computer programme written by Dr Colin McClean, of York’s Environment Department to study the response of plants to climate change.

Dr Lovett added: “We needed a method that would help fill in gaps in knowledge. The technique we used is called a genetic algorithm because it works in a similar way to the effect of evolution on chromosomes – the programme combines different variables in lots of different ways and the bad fits are knocked out, leaving the best solutions.”

The York team collaborated with the Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants in Bonn and the South African National Biodiversity Institute to compile the world’s largest database of Africa-wide plant distribution maps.

The research was supported by Conservation International and the BIOTA-Africa Programme of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The findings will be published this summer in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden – the USA’s leading research institute on African botany.

Dr Lovett added: “The other remarkable thing is that similar changes seem to have occurred in the past. When we showed the results to Jean Maley, a French palaeobotanist from Montpellier who works on past climate change in West Africa, he immediately drew parallels with events in the last Ice Age and in the African forest decline about 2500 years ago.”

He suggested that climate change would also have large-scale social impacts in Africa in the future.

“The social effects of climate change are tightly linked to politics and so difficult to predict, but the way things are going it looks like Africa is going to be in for a rough ride over the next few decades,” Dr Lovett said.

Source: University of York

Explore further: Brian Schmidt discusses the fast-firing universe

Related Stories

Ears, grips and fists take on mobile phone user ID

16 hours ago

A research project has been under way to explore a biometric authentication system dubbed Bodyprint, with interesting test results. Bodyprint has been designed to detect users' biometric features using the ...

More than 2,200 confirmed dead in Nepal earthquake

16 hours ago

A powerful aftershock shook Nepal on Sunday, making buildings sway and sending panicked Kathmandu residents running into the streets a day after a massive earthquake left more than 2,200 people dead.

Nepal quake: Nearly 1,400 dead, Everest shaken (Update)

Apr 25, 2015

Tens of thousands of people were spending the night in the open under a chilly and thunderous sky after a powerful earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, killing nearly 1,400, collapsing modern houses and ...

Recommended for you

Robotically discovering Earth's nearest neighbors

10 minutes ago

A team of astronomers using ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, California, and Arizona recently discovered a planetary system orbiting a nearby star that is only 54 light-years away. All three planets orbit ...

Radio silence as Russia tries to contact space cargo

48 minutes ago

Russia will try again in the coming hours to make contact with an unmanned cargo ship after communications were lost following the spacecraft's launch toward the International Space Station, NASA said Tuesday.

Strong evidence for coronal heating theory presented

3 hours ago

The Sun's surface is blisteringly hot at 6,000 kelvins or 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit—but its atmosphere is another 300 times hotter. This has led to an enduring mystery for those who study the Sun: What ...

The view from up there, down here

6 hours ago

When many people saw the first stunning photos of the fragile blue marble of Earth from space, it changed their outlook of humanity. It was a singular moment in time when people around the world were watching ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.