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Future soil loss in highland Ethiopia under changing climate and land use


Soil erosion caused by climate and land-use changes is one of the biggest environmental challenges in highland Ethiopia. The aim of this study was to assess the future soil erosion risks and evaluate the potential conservation measures in the Rib watershed, northwestern highland Ethiopia. We used the HadGEM2-ES model with a moderate greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration scenario (RCP4.5) to project the future climate. The future land-use patterns were predicted using the CA-Markov model. We integrated the RUSLE model with GIS to estimate the spatial distribution of soil loss and identify erosion risk areas. We found that the Rib watershed is highly vulnerable to future climate and land-use changes, leading to a high soil erosion risk. Despite slight growth of forest cover during the study period, the total soil loss for the watershed was estimated to be 7.93 × 106 t year−1 in 2017 and was predicted to increase to 9.75 × 106 t year−1 in 2050, an increase of about 23%. The increase in forest cover was due to the expansion of the area of eucalyptus plantations which are more prone to erosion. Moreover, field survey showed that the residual native forests are sparsely vegetated and mostly used for cattle grazing, increasing the erosion risk even more. In contrast, the combined use of afforestation with native trees and physical soil conservation measures in the upper areas of the catchment could decrease soil loss by 62%. Our results stress the importance of combining soil conservation measures, including converting eucalyptus plantations to native forests, to mitigate the effects of future climate change and increased agricultural production on soil erosion.

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The corresponding author is grateful to the Landscape Geoinformatics Lab of the University of Tartu, where all of the geospatial analysis was performed. We thank the journal’s anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped to improve the quality of our paper.


This study was supported by the Dora Plus Programme of the Government of Estonia (Grant No. 2-1.17 / LT / 1939 11/01/2018), the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions individual fellowships under the Horizon 2020 Programme grant agreement number 795625, the Mobilitas Pluss Postdoctoral Researcher Grant number MOBJD233 and PRG352 of the Estonian Research Council (ETAG), and by the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence EcolChange).

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Correspondence to Desalew Meseret Moges.

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Communicated by Diana Sietz

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Moges, D.M., Kmoch, A., Bhat, H.G. et al. Future soil loss in highland Ethiopia under changing climate and land use. Reg Environ Change 20, 32 (2020).

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  • Modeling
  • HadGEM2-ES model
  • RUSLE model
  • CA-Markov model
  • GIS
  • Nature-based solutions