Reconstructing pre-agricultural expansion vegetation cover of Ethiopia uri icon


  • Landscape reconstructions can be used to define a reference condition from which to assess the magnitude of land changes caused by human influence. Since the beginning of the last century, the population of Ethiopia has increased drastically with large effects on the natural vegetation and biodiversity. However, the original land cover patterns in Ethiopia have not been precisely mapped, which hinder the identification of the biophysical and socio-economic factors that contributed to the current landscape patterns. The objective of this study was to reconstruct the past century vegetation landscapes of Ethiopia (i.e. vegetation cover before agricultural expansion) and identify which ecosystems have been most affected by land changes. First, the net primary productivity (NPP) was modelled based on the climatic constraints of natural vegetation growth (water availability, solar radiation and minimum temperature) derived from remote sensing and climate data. This analysis showed that water availability is the most critical constraint for vegetation growth for all regions and land cover types in Ethiopia. Then, the past vegetation was mapped based on predicted NPP. Our results show that i) the extent of broadleaved evergreen or semi-deciduous forest, open broadleaved deciduous forest, closed to open shrubland, mosaic forest-shrubland/grassland, sparse vegetation and grassland was 18.8%, 12.4%, 20.6%, 31.5%, and 16.8%, respectively, and ii) current agricultural landscapes were previously covered mainly by broadleaved evergreen and deciduous forest, which encompassed 38.9%. The least affected by agricultural expansion were sparse vegetation and grassland. Our study provides novel insights on pre-agricultural expansion landscapes in Ethiopia with critical information for scientists and other stakeholders working on the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded areas

publication date

  • 2015