Sub-continental-scale carbon stocks of individual trees in African drylands

The distribution of dryland trees and their density, cover, size, mass and carbon content are not well known at sub-continental to continental scales. This information is important for ecological protection, carbon accounting, climate mitigation and restoration efforts of dryland ecosystems. We assessed more than 9.9 billion trees derived from more than 300,000 satellite images, covering semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa north of the Equator. We attributed wood, foliage and root carbon to every tree in the 0–1,000 mm year−1 rainfall zone by coupling field data, machine learning, satellite data and high-performance computing. Average carbon stocks of individual trees ranged from 0.54 Mg C ha−1 and 63 kg C tree−1 in the arid zone to 3.7 Mg C ha−1 and 98 kg tree−1 in the sub-humid zone. Overall, we estimated the total carbon for our study area to be 0.84 (±19.8%) Pg C. Comparisons with 14 previous TRENDY numerical simulation studies for our area found that the density and carbon stocks of scattered trees have been underestimated by three models and overestimated by 11 models, respectively. This benchmarking can help understand the carbon cycle and address concerns about land degradation. We make available a linked database of wood mass, foliage mass, root mass and carbon stock of each tree for scientists, policymakers, dryland-restoration practitioners and farmers, who can use it to estimate farmland tree carbon stocks from tablets or laptops.
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is published with open access at and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Nature, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: carbon stocks; above-ground carbon; mapping; Africa; sub-Saharan Africa; dryland trees; ecological protection; carbon accounting; climate mitigation; ecosystem restoration.
Tucker, C., Brandt, M., Hiernaux, P. et al. Sub-continental-scale carbon stocks of individual trees in African drylands. Nature 615, 80–86 (2023).