Ecosystems | African Wildlife Foundation

From deserts to wetlands, this continent is home to a wide range of landscapes

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Ecosystems

Gallery
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  • Ecosystem_Desert_Tim_Moss
  • Ecosystem_forest
  • Desert_Tim_Moss
  • Gallery_Forest_Craig_R_Sholley
  • Montane_Forest_Andrea_Athanas
  • River_forest_Kathleen_Fitzgerald
  • Savanna_Mathias_Mugisha
  • Tropical_Forest_Craig_R_Sholley
  • Wetland_2_Harry_Van_Der_Linde
  • Woodland_Forest_DarylandSharna_Balfour
Overview

Africa is a large, diverse continent that boasts a multitude of ecosystems.

The following environments are typically found across sub-Saharan Africa, where African Wildlife Foundation works:

Desert

North Africa is the site of the world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara, while Southern Africa hosts the Kalahari Desert. Despite a harsh, dry, climate that is hot during the day and extremely cold at night, these—along with Africa’s many other deserts—house more than 300 different species of wildlife, including the African wild dog, cheetah, hyrax, ostrich, and many species of birds and lizards.

Gallery Forest

Gallery forests grow along rivers or wetlands in regions that are typically otherwise devoid of trees, such as savannas, grasslands, or deserts. They are able to exist where the surrounding landscape does not support forests. Gallery forests are shrinking worldwide as a result of unsustainable agriculture, dams, and large populations of livestock.

Montane

Montane ecosystems are those of high elevation on mountains. In Africa, there are montane forests, woodlands, and savannas, which due to their high elevation tend to be cooler than other parts of the continent. Wildlife differs greatly depending on the type of montane ecosystem.  

River

Africa boasts some of the most important rivers in the world. The Congo River is the deepest river, while the Nile is widely regarded as the longest in the world. All of Africa’s rivers are teeming with abundant wildlife, with a great diversity of fish as well as hippos and crocodiles. African rivers vary greatly in size and wildlife distribution, but they are the lifeblood of this beautiful continent. Overfishing, pollution, and poor management all threaten these habitats. 

Savanna

Savannas are tropical grasslands with warm temperatures year-round. Characterized by rolling, low grasses and dotted with trees, this ecosystem is home to many of Africa’s most prized species and represents a considerable percentage of the continent’s land mass. Stretching from the horn of Africa west across the continent and then expanding south, cheetahs, lions, elephants, gazelles, and many other species roam this open habitat, and savannas play host to many of the large-scale migrations in Africa.

Savannas are under threat, though. Climate change, human expansion, and aggressive agriculture are shrinking this formerly vast landscape and threatening the species that call it home.

Tropical Forest

Scientists estimate that more than half of the world’s plant and animal species live in tropical rainforests, and yet they cover less than 6% of the world’s surface. These warm, wet forests receive up to 260 inches of rain yearly and are home to Africa’s great apes. Tropical forests can be found in Central and West Africa, with tropical scrub forests in the south, but western rain forests are suffering greatly from fragmentation. The ecologically rich forests are particularly vulnerable to slash-and-burn agriculture as well as logging and illegal poaching.

Wetland

Africa boasts a diversity of wetlands—from freshwater forests to saline lakes and massive floodplains. Plants have high productivity and biodiversity in wetlands, which people, livestock, and wildlife benefit from. Africa still has a number of wetlands, including the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but they are experiencing immense pressure from human activities such as draining for agriculture and settlement as well as challenges posed by climate change.  

Woodland

Woodlands differ from tropical forests in their density, temperature, and wildlife. Woodlands are low-density forests, offering plenty of sunlight and small shrubs or grasses. African woodlands cover much of the continent and are the habitat to buffalo, elephants, giraffes, leopards, and many other species. African woodlands are under threat from encroaching human populations that will often destroy forests for firewood and grazing areas for livestock.  

Projects

Explore some of our related projects:

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