- Modelling the impact of future climate and land use change on vegetation patterns, plant diversity and provisioning ecosystem services in West Africa (2012)
- Global climate change and land use change will not only alter entire ecosystems and biodiversity patterns, but also the supply of ecosystem services. A better understanding of the consequences is particularly needed in under-investigated regions, such as West Africa. The projected environmental changes suggest negative impacts on nature, thus representing a threat to the human well-being. However, many effects caused by climate and land use change are poorly understood so far. Thus, the main objective of this thesis was to investigate the impact of climate and land use change on vegetation patterns, plant diversity and important provisioning ecosystem services in West Africa. The three different aspects are separately explored and build the chapters of this thesis. The findings help to improve our understanding of the effects of environmental change on ecosystems and human well-being. In the first study, the main objectives were to model trends and the extent of future biome shifts in West Africa that may occur by 2050. Also, I modelled a trend in West African tree cover change, while accounting for human impact. Additionally, uncertainty in future climate projections was evaluated to identify regions with reliable trends and regions where the impacts remain uncertain. The potential future spatial distributions of desert, grassland, savanna, deciduous and evergreen forest were modelled in West Africa, using six bioclimatic models. Future tree cover change was analysed with generalized additive models (GAMs). I used climate data from 17 general circulation models (GCMs) and included human population density and fire intensity to model tree cover. Consensus projections were derived via weighted averages to: 1) reduce inter-model variability, and 2) describe trends extracted from different GCM projections. The strongest predicted effect of climate change was on desert and grasslands, where the bioclimatic envelope of grassland is projected to expand into the Sahara desert by an area of 2 million km2. While savannas are predicted to contract in the south (by 54 ± 22 × 104 km2), deciduous and evergreen forest biomes are expected to expand (64 ± 13 × 104 km2 and 77 ± 26 × 104 km2). However, uncertainty due to different GCMs was particularly high for the grassland and the evergreen forest biome shift. Increasing tree cover (1–10%) was projected for large parts of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, but a decrease was projected for coastal areas (1–20%). Furthermore, human impact negatively affected tree cover and partly changed the direction of the projected climate-driven tendency from increase to decrease. Considering climate change alone, the model results of potential vegetation (biomes) showed a ‘greening’ trend by 2050. However, the modelled effects of human impact suggest future forest degradation. Thus, it is essential to consider both climate change and human impact in order to generate realistic future projections on woody cover. The second study focused on the impact and the interplay of future (2050) climate and land use change on the plant diversity of the West African country Burkina Faso. Synergistic forecasts for this country are lacking to date. Burkina Faso covers a broad bioclimatic gradient which causes a similar gradient in plant diversity. Thus, the impact of climate and land use change can be investigated in regions with different levels of species richness. The LandSHIFT model from the Centre of Environmental System research CESR (Kassel, Germany) was adapted for this study to derive novel regional, spatially explicit future (2050) land use simulations for Burkina Faso. Additionally, the simulations include different assumptions on the technological developments in the agricultural sector. Oneclass support vector machines (SVMs), a machine learning method, were performed with these land use simulations together with current and future (2050) climate projections at a 0.1° resolution (cell: ~ 10 × 10 km). The modelling results showed that the flora of Burkina Faso will be primarily negatively impacted by future climate and land use changes. The species richness will be significantly reduced by 2050 (P < 0.001, paired Wilcoxon signed-rank test). However, contrasting latitudinal patterns were found. Although climate change is predicted to cause species loss in the more humid regions in Southern Burkina Faso (~ 200 species per cell), the model projects an increase of species richness in the Sahel. However, land use change is expected to suppress this increase to the current species diversity level, depending on the technological developments. Climate change is a more important threat to the plant diversity than land use change under the assumption of technological stagnation in the agricultural sector. Overall, the study highlights the impact and interplay of future climate and land use change on plant diversity along a broad bioclimatic gradient in West Africa.Furthermore, the results suggest that plant diversity in dry and humid regions of the tropics might generally respond differently to climate and land use change. This pattern has not been detected by global studies so far. Several of the plant species in West Africa significantly contribute to the livelihoods of the population. The plants provide so-called non-timber forest products (NTFPs), which are important provisioning ecosystem services. However, these services are also threatened by environmental change. Thus, the third study aimed at developing a novel approach to assess the impacts of climate and land use change on the economic benefits derived from NTFPs. This project was carried out in cooperation with Katja Heubach (BiK-F) who provided data on household economics. These data include 60 interviews that were conducted in Northern Benin on annual quantities and revenues of collected NTFPs from the three most important savanna tree species: Adansonia digitata, Parkia biglobosa and Vitellaria paradoxa. The current market prices of the NTFPs were derived from respective local markets. To assess current and future (2050) occurrence probabilities of the three species, I calibrated niche-based models with climate data (from Miroc3.2medres) and land use data (LandSHIFT) at a 0.1° resolution (cell: ~ 10 × 10 km). Land use simulations were taken from the previous study on plant diversity. Three different niche-based models were used: 1) generalized additive models (regression method), 2) generalized boosting models (machine learning method), and 3) flexible discriminant analysis (classification method). The three model simulations were averaged (ensemble forecasting) to increase the robustness of the predictions. To assess future economic gains and losses, respectively, the modelled species’ occurrence probabilities were linked with the spatially assigned monetary values. Highest current annual benefits are obtained from V. paradoxa (54,111 ± 28,126 US$/cell), followed by P. biglobosa (32,246 ± 16,526 US$/cell) and A. digitata (9,514 ± 6,243 US$/cell). However, in the prediction large areas will lose up to 50% of their current economic value by 2050. Vitellaria paradoxa and Parkia biglobosa, which currently reveal the highest economic benefits, are heavily affected. Adansonia digitata is negatively affected less strongly by environmental change and might regionally even supply increasing economic benefits, in particular in the west and east of the investigation area. We conclude that adaptive strategies are needed to create alternative income opportunities, in particular for women that are responsible for collecting the NTFPs. The findings provide a benchmark for local policy-makers to economically compare different land use options and adjust existing management strategies for the near future. Overall, this thesis improves our understanding of the impacts of climate and land use changes on West African vegetation patterns, plant diversity and provisioning ecosystem services. Climate change had spatially varying impacts (positive and negative effects) on the vegetation cover and plant diversity, while predominantly negative effects resulted from human pressure. Regional contrasting impacts of environmental change were also found considering the provisioning ecosystem services.