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: Huge sunspots and their magnetic structure observed by Hinode

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A closer look at carbon dioxide

Nov 18, 2014

A new simulation of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere provides an ultra-high-resolution look at how the key greenhouse gas moves around the globe and fluctuates in volume throughout the year. These three close-up views ...

Research that holds water

Oct 21, 2014

Water is a vulnerable resource coming under increasing pressure in many parts of the world. The Research Council of Norway is providing funding to a number of research projects seeking to solve challenges related to the supply ...

Recommended for you

DNA survives critical entry into Earth's atmosphere

19 hours ago

The genetic material DNA can survive a flight through space and re-entry into the earth's atmosphere—and still pass on genetic information. A team of scientists from UZH obtained these astonishing results ...

Team develops cognitive test battery for spaceflight

20 hours ago

Space is one of the most demanding and unforgiving environments. Human exploration of space requires astronauts to maintain consistently high levels of cognitive performance to ensure mission safety and success, and prevent ...

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.