The present distribution of forest and savanna in West Africa appears to be the consequence of complex interactions between climate, edaphic conditions, and anthropogenic activities such as cultivation and fire.
At the sub-continental scale, climate is of primary importance but its effect on water availability is mitigated by local edaphic conditions. The present position of the boundary is also a legacy of past climatic conditions, because vegetation types have an internal stability resulting in delayed response to changes in the environment.
At the landscape scale, the forest savanna mosaic is primarily determined by soil conditions. In addition, the natural colonisation potential of forest species is hampered by fire. The human induced increase in fire frequency can probably explain the sharpness of the transition between the two vegetation types. Cultivation has probably favoured afforestation when human population densities were low and fallow periods were long. Cultivation has led to savannisation when population densities were high. Under present, natural conditions the balance between the two vegetation types appears to be shifting towards forest. However, due to the growing impact of man, the future of the forest-savanna transition zone is uncertain and should deserve much attention.
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