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Environmental change in time series – An interdisciplinary study in the Sahel of Mali and Senegal (JAE, Volume 105, June 2014, Pages 52-63)

Climatic changes and human activities have caused major environmental change in the Sahel. Remote sensing studies detect various vegetation trends; however, explanations are rarely studied in detail. We present a methodology using time series, high-resolution imagery and fieldwork to validate trend analyses for two regions in the Sahel of Mali and Senegal. Both study areas show significant greening trends from 1982 to 2010.

Reasons can be very site-specific, but several factors are valid for both research areas: (1) farmer-managed agro-forestry, (2) planting programs and protection laws, (3) widespread dispersion of robust species, which replace the former diverse woody vegetation and simulate a greening which conceals a shift in biodiversity and (4) an increase of annual rainfall. However, the situation is still far from the pre-drought conditions, which are reconstructed by Corona imagery (1965) and interviews with the local population.

Rather a transformation is observed: a decrease in natural vegetation, tree density and diversity. Reasons are climatic and anthropogenic: (1) drought events, less rain and higher temperatures, (2) increased demand for cropping areas and wood, especially in times of droughts. Our example validates that climatic factors are important drivers of change, but much of today's environment and vegetation composition is controlled by humans.

Highlights

- We apply an interdisciplinary methodology for vegetation trend analysis in the Sahel.

- Time series, high resolution imagery and interdisciplinary fieldwork are used.

- Environmental changes within 50years are explained for 2Sahelian study regions.

- Climate is an important driver but much of today’s environment is controlled by humans.

- Explanations for trends cannot be generalized, but are heterogeneous and site-specific.