Land use and land-cover change are major factors affecting the distribution and conservation status of birds. The USGS (US Geological Survey) has recently published this atlas of land use and land cover dynamics which covers all of the West African countries as far east as Niger and Nigeria, and north to Mali and Senegal, as well as the Cape Verde Islands. The introductory part of the atlas covers: landscapes and physical geography, including bioclimatic regions, ecological regions, and protected areas, with a special section on the W–Arly– Pendjari Transboundary Reserve; approaches to monitoring land resources; drivers of land-use changes (principally population and climate); land productivity; and regional land use and land-cover trends between 1975 and 2013.
Many pairs of pictures of the same landscape drive home the land-cover changes that have taken place over time, some of the more recent ones of which have been for the good including from an ecological point of view. The second part of the book comprises 17 country chapters each totalling 6–10 pages. All of the chapters (which can be downloaded individually from the URL above) contain various thematic maps (e.g., protected areas, ecoregions, relief), as well as remote sensingbased maps that depict land cover in 1975, 2000 and 2013. Comparisons between 1975 and 2013 are especially remarkable, with agriculture ‘spreading its wings’ and natural vegetation decreasing. Lovely pictures and a brief text illustrate the changes. During 1975–2013 the human population has increased by a factor of three to four in most of the countries of West Africa. Apart from always wanting to know more, the main subject I would have liked to have seen included are changes in wetlands in West Africa over the past 40 years.
Wetlands are so very important to both people and biodiversity in West Africa, and most of them have come under such enormous pressure during the past half-century. Wetland-dependent biodiversity in West Africa includes many species of migratory birds that the region shares with the rest of Africa, all of Europe, and western and northern Asia. Perhaps wetlands and wetland change in West Africa might be the subject of a follow-up atlas? If the USGS did as good a job with such as project as it has done with this landscape atlas, I would be a happy man.