More than one quarter of Africa’s tree cover is found outside areas previously classified as forest

Reiner, F., Brandt, M., Tong, X. et al. | Nature Communications volume 14, Article number: 2258 | 2023 | Peer Reviewed | Systematic review |


The consistent monitoring of trees both inside and outside of forests is key to sustainable land management. Current monitoring systems either ignore trees outside forests or are too expensive to be applied consistently across countries on a repeated basis. Here we use the PlanetScope nanosatellite constellation, which delivers global very high-resolution daily imagery, to map both forest and non-forest tree cover for continental Africa using images from a single year. Our prototype map of 2019 (RMSE = 9.57%, bias = −6.9%). demonstrates that a precise assessment of all tree-based ecosystems is possible at continental scale, and reveals that 29% of tree cover is found outside areas previously classified as tree cover in state-of-the-art maps, such as in croplands and grassland. Such accurate mapping of tree cover down to the level of individual trees and consistent among countries has the potential to redefine land use impacts in non-forest landscapes, move beyond the need for forest definitions, and build the basis for natural climate solutions and tree-related studies.