A Socio-Ecological Observatory for Southern African Woodlands

About SEOSAW: an activity of the Miombo Network

  • 6818 Woodland plots
  • 12 Countries
  • 524695 Tree measurements
  • 47 Researchers

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What is SEOSAW?

The long-term goal of SEOSAW is to understand the response of southern African woodlands to global change.

Key outputs:

1. Novel analyses of the determinants of ecosystem structure and function for the southern Africa region, based on a synthesis of plot data.

2. Standardised methods for plot design and measurement, tailored to the socio-ecology of African woodlands.

3. A long-term regional plan for plot remeasurement.


The woodlands of southern Africa are the largest savanna in the world at ~3 million km2 (Mistry et al. 2000) and support the livelihoods of >150 million people (Ryan et al. 2016, but key ecological and social processes are not well understood. This knowledge gap arises because existing data have not been synthesised, nor analysed with state of the art methods. As a result, we currently have no reliable way to understand how this ecosystem will respond to global change.

Shifts in vegetation structure and ecosystem service provision in the woodlands have been hypothesised to result from altered fire regimes, an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising CO2 concentrations, and increasing human use. These changes could threaten future provision of ecosystem services to rural and urban people who depend directly upon these woodlands for fuel, food, medicines and other materials, and indirectly via their role in nutrient cycling which supports the region's agriculture (Ryan et al. 2016). Global change is also predicted to increase the carbon stored in African woodlands from 14 to 34 Pg by 2100, a change comparable to the mass of C currently stored in the Congo basin forests (Scheiter et al. 2009). However, there is currently no regional network of observations to evaluate if such changes are underway, and little testing or validation of model predictions against relevant data. Indeed, such models are generally based only on understanding and validation from South African national parks, or other continents, neither of which represent the woodland's functional ecology or social context (Lehmann et al. 2014).

SEOSAW will address this by synthesising data from across the region, and making it easily accessible for regional analyses and modelling efforts. It will also develop a set of standardised methodologies and new collaborations to improve future observations. It will do so by creating a novel partnership of research groups, and developing the intellectual infrastructure to support collaborative research for the long term.

Get involved

SEOSAW is an open network - we welcome anyone interested in using the data or contributing new data. Please get in touch via the link below.