The impact of land use and cover change on above and below-ground carbon stocks of the miombo woodlands since the 1950s: a systematic review protocol
© Syampungani et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2014
Received: 17 April 2014
Accepted: 13 October 2014
Published: 5 December 2014
Increasingly, forests are on the international climate change agenda as land use and cover changes drive forest and carbon loss. The ability of forests to store carbon has created programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus (REDD+), in order to provide incentives for particular land uses and forest management practices. A critical element to REDD+ is the ability to know the carbon-storage potential of an ecosystem, and the factors likely to affect the rate of carbon accumulation or the maximum amount stored. Most REDD+ initiatives have focused on humid tropical forests because of their large stocks per unit area. Less attention has been paid to the carbon-storage potential of tropical dry forests, woodlands and savannas. Although these ecosystems support a lower biomass per unit area, they are more widespread than humid forests. This proposed systematic review examines miombo woodlands, which are the most extensive vegetation formation in Africa and support over 100 million people. We ask: To what extent have changes in land use and land cover influenced above- and below-ground carbon stocks of miombo woodlands since the 1950s?
We will search systematically for studies that document the influence of land use and cover change on above and below ground carbon in miombo woodlands since the 1950s. We will consult bibliographic databases and an extensive grey literature network, including government reports and forestry offices. Relevant studies will examine the impacts of human activities, fire and other land use or cover changes that affect wood biomass or soil carbon in the miombo region. All included studies will be assessed for the soundness and scientific validity of their study design. A quantitative synthesis will tabulate estimates of various parameters necessary to assess carbon stocks and changes across climate and geological factors; and a qualitative analysis will describe the governing land and forest policies. Understanding the impact that land uses and the associated changes have on carbon storage in the miombo woodlands will contribute to more informed forest management policies and better guided strategies for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
KeywordsMiombo woodlands REDD+ Woodfuel Habitat degradation Land use Climate change Carbon Biomass Land use practices
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is on the rise. Changes in land use – including forest clearance for agriculture, settlement and industrial expansion – have contributed about 136 (±55) Gt C or one-third of total anthropogenic emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere over the past 150 years [1, 2]. The importance of CO2 to climate change has provided the impetus for research on the global carbon cycle with particular attention on carbon stocks in the main terrestrial compartments, mainly soils and plant biomass [3, 4]. Various carbon initiatives have been designed to provide innovative ways for reducing the release of greenhouse gases and to increase carbon storage in various ecosystems: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and enhancement of carbon stocks through forest conservation and sustainable management (REDD+) is one such an initiative. The purpose of REDD+ is to create an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, thereby contributing to the global fight against climate change. One critical element for the REDD+ mechanism is the ability to know the carbon-storage potential of a forest ecosystem, and the factors likely to affect both the rate of carbon accumulation and the maximum amount of carbon that can be stored. To date, most nascent REDD+ initiatives have focused on tropical moist forests because of their large carbon stocks per unit area (see ) and the substantial emissions of greenhouse gases that would result from converting these forests to pastures, cropland, or commercial timber plantations. Much less attention has been paid to the potential for reducing emissions from, and potential carbon storage in, dry forests and woodlands [6–8]. Although these systems support a much lower and more variable woody biomass per unit area , they are more widespread than tropical moist forests [6, 9]. This is especially so in Africa, where land supporting, or capable of supporting, dry forests and woodlands cover approximately 8,592,420 km2 in contrast to the 3,479,180 km2 of dense and mosaic forest .
The miombo region encompasses a complex of vegetation formations each dominated by one or a few tree species in the legume subfamily Caesalpinioideae. Miombo woodlands are the most widespread and are dominated by species in the genera Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia on a wide range of acid, infertile, and generally medium-textured soils. Interspersed with the miombo woodlands, or situated towards the periphery of the region, are a number of structurally-similar vegetation formations each associated with particular edapho-climatic conditions. These include woodlands and open forest formations dominated by Baikiaea plurijuga on nutrient-poor, well-drained Kalahari sand; Marquesia macroura (Family Dipterocarpaceae) on deep, well-drained sandy loams in the high rainfall zone; Cryptosepalum pseudotaxus on sands with seasonally high water tables; and Colophospermum mopane on arid, alkaline, often nutrient-rich Triassic shales and shallow basaltic loams. Pockets of mixed woodland (called munga in Central Africa) dominated by Acacia, Combretum and Terminalia spp occur within miombo on limestone-derived loams and in the major river valleys on clay-rich alluvium, often alongside mopane woodlands and shrub lands.
Trends in carbon stock in living forest biomass: selected miombo countries 1990–2010 
Carbon stock in living forest biomass (10 6 Mg)
Annual changes (10 3 Mg yr -1)
As a result of mixed intensive and extensive land uses, miombo woodlands have varied land cover. While some of the woodlands are composed of tall, almost closed-canopy stands, other areas are cleared for shifting cultivation and charcoal production . These variations in land cover influence how much biomass and carbon the woodlands can hold. Soil organic carbon (SOC) content, for instance, is reduced by cultivation and wood harvesting. A comparative study between the relatively undisturbed woodland and disturbed woodland in the Zimbabwean miombo revealed significant variation in soil carbon . The findings show that organic carbon content was largest under reference (relatively undisturbed) woodlands on red clays (53.3 Mg C ha-1) followed by those on granitic sand (22.8 Mg C ha-1) and least on Kalahari sand (19.5 Mg C ha-1). Organic carbon declined rapidly under cultivation, reaching new equilibria within a decade on all smallholdings. The high levels of woodland conversion per year results in soil degradation, erosion and loss of organic matter, which in turn enables the soil to have a higher potential to sequester carbon. Similarly, in terms of biomass, reductions of up to 38 Mg ha-1 occur with the clearance of woodlands for shifting cultivation . Recorded rates of biomass increase in some young regenerating miombo woodlands are 1.4–1.8 Mg ha-1 [20–22].
Many studies across the miombo region have shown that woodlands can recover rapidly from disturbances caused by human activities, for example in Zambia [23–25]; Tanzania [26, 27]; Zimbabwe [28, 29] and Mozambique . Luoga et al.  and Syampungani  have reported higher capacity to re-sprout/regenerate in harvested stands compared to mature, more or less untouched stands suggesting that miombo woodlands are dynamic ecosystems reacting well to appropriate levels of exploitation. Like many other dry forest and woodland species, miombo woodland tree species have extensive vertical and horizontal root systems which facilitate regeneration after cutting [31, 32]. The availability of stump coppices, root suckers, or suppressed saplings in the herb layer at the time of clearing [19, 33] enables the woodlands to recover rapidly, depending on the intensity of subsequent land use (e.g. cultivation).
Currently, there are a number of emerging international and private sector finance schemes and policies intended to support livelihoods, poverty alleviation and sustainable growth through carbon sequestration projects in the miombo region . Examples of carbon projects that have been undertaken within the miombo ecoregion include the N’hambita Carbon Project, Mozambique, now called the Gorongosa Community Carbon sub-Project , and the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, Tanzania . However, other countries within the miombo ecoregion are also in the process of implementing REDD+ projects. These initiatives are aimed at developing forestry and land use practices that promote sustainable rural livelihoods in participation with rural communities in a way that raises their living standards, and to assess the potential of these initiatives in generating verifiable carbon emission reductions.
Objective of the review
What has been the impact of changes in land use and land cover on above- and below-ground carbon stocks of miombo woodlands since the 1950s?
What are the drivers of woodland degradation and how do they contribute to biomass and carbon stock (wood and soil) changes in the miombo woodlands?
How do different land use practices impact on wood biomass and soil carbon stocks across the miombo woodlands?
What have been the impact of policy and institutional frameworks to the maintenance and management of wood biomass and carbon stocks in the miombo woodlands?
Author and stakeholder workshops
The miombo review team held two author and stakeholder workshops on November 26–27, 2013 in Livingstone, Zambia, and on January 21–22, 2014 in Lusaka, Zambia. Each workshop had the main review team plus additional authors, advisors, or other stakeholders engaged in research and policy issues concerning miombo woodlands. The November 2013 workshop concentrated on sharpening the scope of the study, defining the primary research questions, and discussing the types and availability of data for the miombo region. The January 2014 workshop focused on improving the links between the protocol’s background and outcome sections, and developing data extraction and quality assessment criteria. Both workshops served to further refine the review’s focus for understanding how land use and cover changes in the miombo region (and globally, dry forests) affect carbon fluxes.
Scope and search strategy
1. Miombo woodland
miombo OR woodland* OR "Zambez* phytoregion" OR brachystegia OR julbernardia OR isoberlinia OR savanna* OR forest* OR "standing stock" OR biomass
Zambia OR Angola OR Malawi OR "Democratic Republic of Congo" OR Mozambique OR Zimbabwe OR Tanzania OR "South Africa" OR Burundi OR "Belgian Congo" OR Zaire OR Rhodesia OR Nyasaland OR Tanganyika OR Africa
3. Land use
timber OR fire OR "forest product*" OR "wood product*" OR "natural resource*" OR "land cover" OR "land use" OR "land tenure" OR "land degradation" OR swidden OR citimene OR chitimene OR "slash AND burn" + - OR fallow OR "shifting cultivation" OR grazing OR infrastruct* OR mining OR migrat* OR wildlife OR bushmeat OR fodder OR mushroom* OR fuelwood OR woodfuel OR charcoal OR refugee OR log* OR agroforestry OR disturb* OR medicin* OR "forest management" OR "land management" OR "land polic*" OR "forest polic*" OR livelihood* OR measure OR density OR livestock OR "management regime"
4. Wood OR biomass OR carbon
emission* OR vegetation OR wood* OR biomass OR carbon OR stock* OR flux* OR "above ground" OR "below ground" OR "basal area" OR sequest* OR accumulate* OR model OR estimat* OR ndvi* OR recover* OR "land use change"++ OR rootstock
AND 2 AND 3 AND 4 (from Table 2)
As databases and search engines vary in the algorithms used to find studies, some search strings will be shortened and simplified. For instance, searches performed on websites or research forums will only use a few of the key words from the Population, Exposure and Outcome terms, such as "miombo woodlands", "land use" and "carbon OR biomass". All search combinations, their corresponding database or website, and the date when searches were performed will be recorded and included in an Appendix of the full review.
To ensure our search strategy was robust and comprehensive, we selected 20 articles (see Additional file 1) of known relevance to the miombo review. These articles were developed and used during two stakeholder and author workshops in November 2013 and January 2014. In a series of trial searches using Scopus, WoK and CAB Direct, all twenty articles were found in CAB (with approximately 4,321 results), 19 out of 20 were found in Scopus (out of approximately 5,891 results) and 18 out of 20 were found in WoK (out of approximately 5,867 results). Additional file 2 shows the full search strings used in Scopus, CAB Direct and WoK.
We will use the following publication databases and search engines to search for relevant literature:
Google Scholar 
Google Scholar will be used to identify any relevant papers missed by the bibliographic databases. As Google Scholar will most likely return a large number of hits, the first 100 results, sorted by relevance, will be checked for duplicates and inclusion.
Organizations and websites that we will search or contact
We will obtain grey literature and unpublished studies on the miombo woodlands from a range of research, government and non-government institutions active in the field, as listed below.
African Forest Forum 
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) 
Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) (2005; 2010 country reports) 
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 
Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT (TSBF-CIAT): Conservation and sustainable management of below ground biomass project 
National Forest Monitoring and Assessment (NFMA) of the FAO 
Miombo Network list serve 
Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) 
The World Bank 
Integrated Land Use Assessment Phase 1 & 2, Zambia 
National vegetation Mapping projects (VegRIS) – Zimbabwe 
Winrock International 
KEW Royal Botanic Gardens 
Land and Timber Services (LTS) International 
Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (Mozambique information) 
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) 
Multifunctional Agriculture: Harnessing Biodiversity for Sustainable Agricultural Production and Ecosystem Services (SAPES), Lund University 
Total Land Care – Malawi 
Conservation International (CI) 
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 
National Forestry Resources Monitoring and Assessment, Government of Tanzania (NA FORMA) 
African Soil Information Service (Afsis) 
Many private sector businesses conduct projects within the miombo region and have related historical data useful to this review. The review team will contact the following businesses for relevant studies.
Agricultural Research and Extension Trust – Malawi
British American Tobacco
Alliance One – Malawi, Zambia
Zambia Land Alliance
Limbe Leaf – Malawi
Universities and government offices
Similarly, many university and government offices conduct research in miombo areas. The review team will contact the following university departments and government offices for studies.
Forest Research Institute of Malawi
Oxford Department of Plant Sciences
Government departments in miombo countries
Government departments in miombo countries including: Forestry; lands; agriculture; resettlement; mines; environment; and natural resources departments
Tanzania Forest Research Institute
Forestry Commission, Harare
University of Zimbabwe, Institute of Environmental Studies, and the Centre for Applied Social Science (CASS)
University of Sokoine, Department of Agriculture, Tanzania
University of Zambia, School of Natural Sciences & Agricultural Sciences
University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences
University of Aberdeen, Forestry & Agriculture Department
Climate Action Network International
Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources
National University of Science and Tech, GIS mapping & Inventory at Forest Research Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Harare
Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA)
Ministry for Coordination of Environmental Action (MICOA)
Department of Environmental Affairs, Malawi
Wildlife Management Institutions
Natural History Museums
Study inclusion process and criteria
The subjects, exposures, comparators and outcomes of relevance
Miombo woodlands: as defined by the presence of Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia
Land use and land use practices that impact on above and below ground carbon stocks, which include:
Alternative land uses and practices compared either as controlled ‘plots’ (study areas defined in the primary studies) with different land-use strategies set up and analysed at the same time, or before-and-after intervention comparisons on the same plots.
Any measured change in:
- Carbon stocks (including plant carbon and soil carbon)
- Energy use (firewood and charcoal)
- Plant biomass (including above and below ground)
- Poles (for use in the home)
- Commercial Timber harvesting
- Agriculture (including shifting cultivation, expansion)
- Livestock (browsing of saplings)
- Wildlife damage (i.e. elephants)
- Beekeeping (making of traditional bark hives)
- Destructive harvesting of NTFPs (e.g., edible caterpillars, fruits)
- Protected areas
- Fire (natural; managed and wild)
- Rainfall; drought; temperature variability
- Infrastructure development (roads; mining)
The screening process will be recorded to show how many articles were excluded at the title, abstract and full text stages. Justification for excluding articles at the final stage will be documented and included in an appendix of the full review.
Study relevance will be determined using the inclusion criteria presented in Table 3.
For inclusion, each study must demonstrate it is within the miombo region by the described tree species, document the relevant exposures and describe how these changes have impacted on above-or below-ground carbon stocks or plant biomass. We will review studies that examine the correlation between vegetation density and above-ground living wood volume measured in diameter at breast height (DBH). This measurement is then converted to tons of carbon per hectare (tC/ha). In addition, studies that address local to regional level policies and institutional issues in the miombo region will be included in the review.
Relevant types of study or experimental designs
- 1.Studies that compare alternative land uses and practices (see Table 3) either as controlled ‘plots’ (study areas defined in the primary studies) with different land-use and practice strategies set up and analysed at the same time, or before-and-after intervention comparisons on the same plots. Studies will be included if they contain a clear description of the sample site(s), methods and measurements used for biomass estimation (there is no minimum number or size of sample sites) and give empirical information from the miombo region on either of the following:
Studies that measure carbon changes/fluxes in above-and below-ground carbon pools
Studies that measure above-and below-ground carbon storage
We will also include studies that link land use and biomass or carbon change to associated land or forest management policies, tenure arrangements, or land allocation decisions in the miombo. These studies, which will be analysed separately, will not be limited to those reporting empirical results. Following feedback from stakeholders, we judge it important to include these studies to understand the context of policy decisions and change within the miombo region. Care will be taken to avoid study replication, as we are aware that many secondary data sources will use data gained from the same primary study.
Excluded study designs include:
Studies outside of the miombo (as described by the inclusion criteria)
Studies without biomass or carbon measurements
Critical appraisal of study quality and potential effect modifiers
Additional variables captured for critical appraisal
Contextual social information
Does the information presented set the study’s historical context?
Does the information presented set the study’s ecological context?
Is there information on the political context for the duration of the study?
Site and population information
Does study provide information on site characteristics at the time of the study?
• Is account taken of seasonality?
• Is site vegetation documented?
Several factors can influence study results on biomass and carbon measurements, from biophysical changes in soil and rainfall to anthropogenic disturbances. We will investigate, to the extent possible, the strongest effects on any measured outcome. Potential effect modifiers will be recorded for studies included in the review.
Data extraction strategy
After an included study has passed critical appraisal, two reviewers will extract the quantitative and qualitative data needed for the review. Additional checks will be carried out on 25% of each reviewer’s extracted data to ensure the information is recorded in a consistent manner.
Extracted information on each study will be recorded using an electronic data extraction form. The twenty key references found in Additional file 1 will be used to test and improve the data extraction form. The data to be extracted will follow a similar format as other environmental systematic reviews, described below and adapted from Roe et al. and Pullin and Knight [77, 78]. Data to be extracted will include:
Bibliographic information: author, year, title, publication, place of publication, publisher
Basic study information: location of study, exposure(s), duration of the exposure(s)
Details of evidence type: source, study design, methodology, parameters used in the analysis, duration of study
Relevant detail considered in the study: conceptual link between the exposure and biomass or carbon stock
Details of outcomes: reported effect on biomass and carbon, duration of impacts, scale and suitability of impacts
If a study has insufficient data or missing information (i.e., missing baseline or reference conditions for a given site) that makes it difficult to use the data, the reviewers will first try to contact the authors for additional information. If the data is unavailable or not usable within the review (as decided by the review team), then the study will be excluded and noted as an outcome of the review process.
Synthesis and presentation
This review will use both quantitative and qualitative syntheses to understand the impacts that human (i.e., land use changes) and non-human (i.e., fire, wildlife, etc.) activities have on biomass and soil carbon in the miombo. A quantitative analysis will tabulate the extracted variables of mean root: shoot ratios, mean basal area, mean stocking ha-1, mean biomass (above and below ground biomass), carbon density, together with the standard deviations about the means and the associated sample sizes. The estimates of the above parameters will be compared with different exposures and controls of varying climate/rainfall, topography, and soil-physical characteristics. If sufficient information is provided, the review team will conduct a meta-analysis in addition to a narrative synthesis.
The qualitative synthesis will analyse words and text to summarise the effectiveness of policy and institutional processes governing land use and cover change in the miombo region . This narrative analysis will use descriptive studies to examine the connections between the legal status of land (e.g., protected, communal or game areas), the regional land and forest policy environment, and the associated land use and cover changes over time. We will link both the quantitative and qualitative analyses with statistical and descriptive accounts of any potential parallels, shifts or relationships of land use and land cover change over the past sixty years in the miombo woodlands.
This protocol and forthcoming review are financed from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID) through CIFOR’s Evidence-Based Forestry Initiative. The authors would like to thank all advisory team members, authors, and stakeholders for their invaluable time and advice during workshops and through drafts of the protocol. Special thanks to Peter Frost for his generous intellectual contributions and editing skills. Similar thanks to three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and critical feedback. All of these efforts have improved this protocol considerably.
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