African plant diversity and climate change

C.J. McClean, L. Hannah, W. Barthlott, M. Termansen, G.F. Smith, S. Tokumine, J.R.D. Taplin, J.C. Lovett, W. Küper, J.H. Sommer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


International goals have been set to protect global plant diversity and limit ecosystem damage due to climate change, but large-scale effects of changing climate on species distributions have yet to be fully considered in conservation efforts. For sub-Saharan Africa we study the shifts in climatically suitable areas for 5197 African plant species under future climate models for the years 2025, 2055, and 2085 generated by the Hadley Center’s third generation coupled ocean-atmosphere General Circulation Model. We use three species distribution models, a “Box model,” a simple genetic algorithm, and a Bayes-based genetic algorithm. The results show major shifts in areas suitable for most species with large geographical changes in species composition. The areas of suitable climate for 81%–97% of the 5197 African plant species are projected to decrease in size and/or shift in location, many to higher altitudes, and 25%–42% are projected to lose all of their area by 2085. In particular, the models indicate dramatic change in the Guineo-Congolian forests, mirroring proposed ecological dynamics in the past. Although these models are preliminary and may overestimate potential extinctions, they suggest that efforts to protect African plant diversity should take future climate-forced distribution changes into account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-152
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005


  • Africa
  • biodiversity
  • climate change
  • conservation
  • extinction
  • Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)
  • Important Plant Areas

Cite this