Think of it as trying to help the long-lost cousins who never left your home town.
Researchers and friends at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) are doing just that for chimpanzees. Our closest living relatives still live in their hometown African forests but these forests are under increasing threat.
To monitor the health of chimpanzee habitat, JGI researchers are using the forest cover data provided by Global Forest Watch (GFW) an online forest monitoring and alert tool. GFW, created by World Resources Institute (WRI) and many partners, provides up-to-date remotely sensed information on forest cover across the globe.
Wild chimp in Uganda. Photo by Rhett Butler.
Found in the highest concentrations in rainforests, chimpanzees also live in a variety of other forested habitats. While local threats may differ among chimpanzee populations, forest clearance for agriculture and infrastructure is a primary threat to the survival of the species across its entire range.
Satellite images can distinguish forest from other land cover types because various substrates (e.g. plants, sand, water, pavement, rooftops) reflect different amounts of light energy. Scientists can use these images to assess the status and trends of forest cover such as that of chimpanzee habitats, including forest loss due to human-caused land use change.
The GFW tool displays tree cover data that are produced by the University of Maryland and Google. The data are updated at 500-meter resolution every 16 days, and at 30-meter resolution every year. The data are free and easy to access, and allow a user to monitor change in forest cover at a variety of spatial scales. For example, GFW will calculate annual tree cover loss and gain at a 30-meter resolution since 2000, for specified countries, protected areas, and other priority areas for conservation.
The JGI researchers used the GFW data to calculate that 2.4% of forests within chimpanzee ranges in Africa have been destroyed over the past 12 years (2000-2012). This is equivalent to nearly 5,500,000 hectares, or 2,000 soccer fields, of forest lost each day. They also found that loss of chimpanzee forest habitat was greatest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, and Cameroon, which is particularly worrying, given these regions contain critical rainforest habitat for chimpanzees.
This figure from Global Forest Watch shows the calculations of deforestation, as detected using the University of Maryland data, within Great Apes Conservation Action Planning area in Eastern DRC, one of the most globally important regions for biodiversity. 798,063 ha of forests, or nearly 3 percent of the CAP area, was lost between 2000 and 2012. Figure: Lilian Pintea, Jane Goodall Institute. Click image to enlarge.
The researchers have also used the up-to-date forest cover information to inform and involve local communities and decision-makers in forest management in other Central and East African countries, which we will highlight in an upcoming post.
Learn more about Global Forest Watch, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Great Apes Conservation Action Plan.