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The Negative Effects of Reforestation Initiatives on Vast Tropical Grassland Areas

A recent study conducted by the University of Liverpool sheds light on problems associated with reforestation and restoration initiatives throughout Africa.

Image credit: Xico Putini/

According to a study published in the journal Science, inadequate restoration—tree planting—caused by these ‘misguided’ forest restoration projects is putting an area the size of France at risk.

Upon analyzing the land areas dedicated to reforestation, researchers discovered that several programs encompass regions categorized as non-forest systems.

The main problem, in their opinion, is the inclusion of non-forest systems like grasslands and savannas, which are endangered by an increase in tree cover.

They caution that planting trees in these grassy areas—which differ from forests in terms of structure, function, and composition—could endanger both wildlife, including rhinos and wildebeest, and the humans who depend on these ecosystems.

Restoration of ecosystems is needed and important, but it must be done in a way that is appropriate to each system. Non-forest systems such as savannas are misclassified as forests and therefore considered in need of restoration with trees. There is an urgent need to revise definitions so that savannas are not confused with forests because increasing trees is a threat to the integrity and persistence of savannas and grasslands. Highlighting this issue now means there is still time to negate this threat and ensure that non-forest systems receive appropriate restoration.

Kate Parr, Study Author and Professor, Tropical Ecology, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool

Dr. Nicola Stevens, Trapnell Research Fellow in African Environments at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study, added, “The urgency of implementing large-scale tree planting is prompting funding of inadequately assessed projects that will most likely have negligible sequestration benefits and cause potential social and ecological harm.

The study also shows that the issues mentioned are not exclusive to Africa and that improper “restoration” with trees might have a similar effect on many other non-forest regions, such as the wide savannas and grasslands of Brazil and India.

Journal Reference:

Parr, C. L., et. al. (2024) Conflation of reforestation with restoration is widespread. Science. doi:10.1126/science.adj0899

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