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MIOMBO - Southern Africa Regional Network

Background History | Proposed Science Plan | Recent publications (2007-2010) |

Background History:

Miombo is a vernacular word that has been adopted by ecologists to describe those woodland ecosystems dominated by trees in the genera Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae (CSA/CCTA 1960; Wild and Fernandes 1967). Such woodlands extend across about 2.8 million km2 of the southern sub-humid tropical zone from Tanzania and Zaire in the north, through Zambia, Malawi and eastern Angola, to Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the south. Their distribution largely coincides with the flat to gently undulating African (early Tertiary) and post-African I (Miocene) planation surfaces that form the Central African plateau. The soils are predominantly infertile and are derived from underlying acid, crystalline rocks of the Basement Complex. These woodlands constitute the largest more-or-less contiguous block of deciduous tropical woodlands and dry forests in the world.

Miombo ecosystems directly support the livelihoods of about 39 million people in seven southern African countries, including some with among the lowest per capita income and highest per capita population growth rates in the world. A further 15 million people living in towns and cities throughout the region also depend on food, fibre, fuelwood and charcoal produced in miombo. Estimated woody biomass fuel consumption alone amounts to about 48 Tg yr-1, releasing almost 22 Tg C. Other natural and anthropogenic processes, such as wildland burning, clearance of land for cultivation, slash-and-burn agriculture and the cultivation of wetlands, also contribute unquantified amounts of trace gases to the atmosphere, as well as altering the nature of the land cover and hydrological processes. On a more positive note, about 9 % of the region is protected as national parks, safari areas, and wildlife and forest reserves. Moreover, important advances have been made towards developing community-based natural resource management programmes, initially based on the sustainable use of wildlife but increasingly being extended to woodland resources in general (Child 1995, Bradley and McNamara 1993, Dewees 1994).

The Miombo Network is an intercore project activity of the IGBP/IHDP Research Programme LUCC organised within the framework of the IGBP Terrestrial Transects studies (Koch et al. 1995) within START's Southern Africa region. The aims of the Network are to understand how land use is affecting land cover and associated ecosystem processes in the miombo ecosystems of central, eastern and southern Africa; to assess what contribution these changes are making to global change; and to predict what effects global change in turn could have on land use dynamics and ecosystem structure and function.

The rationale for the proposed Science Plan stems from concern for a better understanding of the long-term environmental and socio-economic effects of global changes in the kinds and intensities of land use in the dry forests and woodlands of the tropics. In these ecosystems a majority of rural people in tropical countries depend for their livelihoods, and they are arguably among the most threatened of tropical ecosystems (Janzen 1988). These ecosystems cover approximately 7.7 million km2 (42 % of tropical forested land) and contain 22-29% of the carbon stored in tropical forests and underlying soils (Brown and Lugo 1982; Solomon et al. 1993). They are important sources of reactive and radiatively trace gases through biomass burning, termite activity, large mammalian herbivores, and plant and soil processes driven by marked seasonal fluctuations in moisture availability. The largest area of tropical dry forests and woodlands is situated in Africa (5.5 million km2), about half of which occurs in the miombo region.

The Overall Goals of Miombo Network:

  1. Promote an integrative miombo science, linking biological, ecological and social disciplines in an effort to produce relevant new knowledge,
  2. Provide the scientific bases for the conservation and sustainable use of miombo woodlands in southern Africa.

Contacts and additional details:

With questions and suggestions please contact: Natasha Ribiero (Miombo Network Coordinator).

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