(searched for: doi:10.17352/gje.000044)
Published: 7 October 2022
Journal: Frontiers in Environmental Science
Frontiers in Environmental Science, Volume 10; https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2022.896703
The argan woodlands of South Morocco represent an open-canopy dryland forest with traditional silvopastoral usage that includes browsing by goats, sheep and camels, oil production as well as agricultural use. In the past, these forests have undergone extensive clearing, but are now protected by the state. However, the remaining argan woodlands are still under pressure from intensive grazing and illegal firewood collection. Although the argan-forest area seems to be overall decreasing due to large forest clearings for intensive agriculture, little quantitative data is available on the dynamics and overall state of the remaining argan forest. To determine how the argan woodlands in the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas had changed in tree-crown cover from 1972 to 2018 we used historical black and white HEXAGON satellite images as well as recent WorldView satellite images (see Part A of our study). Because tree shadows can oftentimes not be separated from the tree crown on panchromatic satellite images, individual trees were mapped in three size categories to determine if trees were unchanged, had decreased/increased in crown size or had disappeared or newly grown. The current state of the argan trees was evaluated by mapping tree architectures in the field. Tree-cover changes varied highly between the test sites. Trees that remained unchanged between 1972 and 2018 were in the majority, while tree mortality and tree establishment were nearly even. Small unchanged trees made up 48.4% of all remaining trees, of these 51% showed degraded tree architectures. 40% of small (re-) grown trees were so overbrowsed that they only appeared as bushes, while medium (3–7 m crown diameter) and large trees (>7 m) showed less degraded trees regardless if they had changed or not. Approaches like grazing exclusion or cereal cultivation lead to a positive influence on tree architecture and less tree-cover decrease. Although the woodland was found to be mostly unchanged 1972–2018, the analysis of tree architecture reveals that a lot of (mostly small) trees remained stable but in a degraded state. This stability might be the result of the small trees’ high degradation status and shows the heavy pressure on the argan forest.