Scientists at the University of Leeds say the agricultural deforestation reduces rainfall over neighboring forest areas by about 50 percent because of changes in the surface temperature, which affects formation of rain clouds.
"We already know from satellite observations that changes in land use can have a big impact on local weather patterns," Leeds researcher Luis Garcia-Carreras said in a university release Tuesday. "Here we have been able to show why this happens."
The forests of West Africa and the Congo Basin are the second-largest in the world after the Amazon rainforest, and have suffered extensive deforestation for agriculture, plantations and other non-forest uses.
In addition to the immediate impact on the forest caused by removal of trees, the study suggests reduced rainfall may have a subsequent serious impact.
"African rainforests already have the lowest rainfall of any rainforest ecosystem on Earth, which could make them particularly sensitive to changes in local weather patterns," Garcia-Carreras said. "Therefore if rainfall is reduced even further as a result of deforestation, it could threaten the survival of the remaining forest by increasing the trees' sensitivity to drought."