Sahel groans under climate change

Research project should show possible ways out of crisis for African drying zones

A harvested millet field in the border region Burkina Faso / Benin: Even in remote areas, the strong population growth increases the pressure of use on the soil. This leads to harvest losses even without the threat of further climate deterioration. Among other things, the project Biota-West is working on the optimization of traditional, largely forgotten methods of soil improvement, in which the promotion of soil organisms - primarily termite species - not only preserves soil fertility, but also allows the regeneration of heavily degraded soils, © Karl-Eduard Linsenmair
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Global climate change is on everyone's lips, but Africa is likely to be the continent hardest hit. Even today, many of the African habitats are threatened by dryness due to high temperatures and limited rainfall. Above all, the Sahel could lose up to 80 percent of the previously occurring animal and plant species. Agriculture and people will also suffer from the drought. The project "Biota-West" should show ways out of the crisis.

"Particularly in West Africa, where the climate varies greatly from the Atlantic coast to the Sahara, the consequences of climate change in the arid zones are already clearly noticeable, " explains Professor Karl Eduard Linsenmair from the Biocenter of the University of Würzburg. Because there it is raining ever more rarely and unpredictably, which leads to a profound change in the vegetation, especially in the arid areas. Ultimately, there threatens the collapse of the ecosystems.

Vicious circle of poverty and overuse

The adverse effects of climate change are also massively increased in densely populated regions that are characterized by large areas of poverty. This is due to over-exploitation of natural ecological resources as well as the ever-increasing conversion of semi-natural areas into usable areas. "In many places, a vicious cycle of poverty and ever-intensifying overuse of nature has emerged. It must be broken if the situation should improve, "Linsenmair warns.

As early as 2001, the Biota-West project was therefore set up to develop management concepts and recipes for action to overcome these problems. In March 2007, the starting signal for the third funding period was given, in which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) invests a total of 6.6 million euros. The University of Würzburg plays a key role here: Linsenmair and his team at the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology are coordinating a total of 16 universities and scientific institutes in Germany, Burkina Faso, Benin and Ivory Coast, from the Biozentrum.

Bundled forces defuse conflicts of use

Extreme form of soil degradation in the northwest of Burkina Faso: The dry forest, which was still here 50 years ago, was cut down, the area then overgrown. In the Biota project, methods are being developed to make such land usable again for agriculture - up to full reforestation with native grains. Karl-Eduard Linsenmair

Biota unites natural sciences and humanities disciplines: In addition to zoology and remote sensing, which are located in Würzburg, botanists, soil scientists, chemists, ethnologists and sociologists work closely together with the partners at the African universities. Together, they develop sustainable practices and effective conservation concepts that will benefit biodiversity and prevent the collapse of African ecosystems. display

Linsenmair is convinced that only in this way can the "services" of the ecosystems that are vital for the population be preserved: soil fertility, erosion protection, water purification and climate control are just a few of them. Residents are equally dependent on the products of the ecosystems, such as plant and animal food, raw materials for clothing or for technical and medical use. In the third funding period of Biota-West, the main focus will be on how such utility products can be produced in a nature-friendly and sustainable way.

(Julius-Maximilians-University W rzburg, 15.05.2007 - AHE)