A comparative assessment of land cover dynamics of three protected forest areas in tropical eastern Africa
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- Lung, T. & Schaab, G. Environ Monit Assess (2010) 161: 531. doi:10.1007/s10661-009-0766-3
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Processes of deforestation, known to threaten tropical forest biodiversity, have not yet been studied sufficiently in East Africa. To shed light on the patterns and causes of human influences on protected forest ecosystems, comparisons of different study areas regarding land cover dynamics and potential drivers are needed. We analyze the development of land cover since the early 1970s for three protected East African rainforests and their surrounding farmlands and assess the relationship between the observed changes in the context of the protection status of the forests. Processing of Landsat satellite imagery of eight or seven time steps in regular intervals results in 12 land cover classes for the Kakamega–Nandi forests (Kenya) and Budongo Forest (Uganda) whereas ten are distinguished for Mabira Forest (Uganda). The overall classification accuracy assessed for the year 2001 or 2003 is similarly high for all three study areas (81% to 85%). The time series reveal that, despite their protection status, Kakamega–Nandi forests and Mabira Forest experienced major forest decrease, the first a continuous forest loss of 31% between 1972/1973 and 2001, the latter an abrupt loss of 24% in the late 1970s/early 1980s. For both forests, the temporally dense time series show short-term fluctuations in forest classes (e.g., areas of forest regrowth since the 1980s or exotic secondary bushland species from the 1990s onwards). Although selectively logged, Budongo Forest shows a much more stable forest cover extent. A visual overlay with population distribution for all three regions clearly indicates a relationship between forest loss and areas of high population density, suggesting population pressure as a main driver of deforestation. The revealed forest losses due to local and commercial exploitation further demonstrate that weak management impedes effective forest protection in East Africa.