Two decades of land cover change and forest fragmentation in Liberia: Consequences for the contribution of nature to people





Citation of Original Publication

de Sousa, C., Fatoyinbo, L., Honzák, M., Wright, T. M., Murillo Sandoval, P. J., Whapoe, Z. E., Yonmah, J., Olatunji, E. T., Garteh, J., Stovall, A., Neigh, C. S. R., Portela, R., Gaddis, K. D., Larsen, T., & Juhn, D. "Two decades of land cover change and forest fragmentation in Liberia: Consequences for the contribution of nature to people" Conservation Science and Practice, e12933 (11 April, 2023).


This work was written as part of one of the author's official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.
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The Guinean forests of West Africa have been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot due to its exceptional concentrations of endemic species and exceptional loss of habitats. The majority of what remains of the Guinean forests lies within Liberia, a country whose share of total wealth is nearly equally distributed into human and natural capital. The Liberian government seeks a more inclusive development agenda that forges a path for improved human capital while sustainably managing its natural capital wealth, which requires consistent data on land cover change and forest disturbance over time. To address this need, Landsat data were used to map and quantify land cover change and forest fragmentation in Liberia between 2000 and 2018. In addition, LiDAR data from the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission were applied to assess the integrity of forest remnants. Between 2000 and 2018, only 1% of all forest cover classes (i.e., dense/primary, open/secondary and sparse/degraded) were converted into non-forest classes, with the most observed change being between these three forest classes. During the study period, 27% of the dense/primary forest class transitioned to either the open/secondary or sparse/degraded canopy classes through consistent fragmentation along the edges of the last large remaining blocks of dense/primary forest located in the north-west and south-east of Liberia and more than 14% of dense/primary forest areas identified in previous studies as “essential natural capital” for either biodiversity, forest carbon storage or provision of freshwater ecosystem services were degraded. The 2018 GEDI-based measurements show that the overall average height of dense/primary forest decreases by 24% and 48%, and canopy closure decreases by 33% and 59%, when transitioned to the open/secondary and sparse/degraded classes, respectively. The information derived from this analysis will be critical for informing the development of new policies and actions, leading to more sustainable forest management in Liberia.