A study has suggested that the loss of woodlands in Africa may impact the climate, as forests store carbon in their stems and branches, which helps to reduce the amount of harmful carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere.
A pioneering study of African savannas by the University of Edinburgh has revealed deforestation in south-central Africa, driven by rising populations in the aftermath of war, and increasing demand for trees for agriculture and fuel, threatens the ecosystem and the livelihood of populations.
According to scientists, the situation could be eased by using sustainable fuel instead of charcoal, and ending the practice of burning forests to support agriculture and livestock.
The study identified a north-south divide - while most forests and woodlands in the south are losing tree cover, many north of the equator are gaining trees.
The worst affected areas are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique.
Increase in forest cover north of the Congo basin might have been caused by migration to cities, resulting in fewer fires, and more hunting of large mammals, reducing tree destruction.
Researchers analysed studies of tree cover in African savannas, and combined this with a 25 year record from satellite data.
Dr Ed Mitchard, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said that land use in Africa influences how much its forests can grow - and their capacity for absorbing carbon emissions.
He said that if humans reduce burning and cutting forests and savannas these will grow and help to limit the impact of carbon emissions, but instead in many places people are impacting more on woodlands and forests, adding to carbon emissions.
The study has been published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.