Bushlands (Acacia-Commiphora) constitute the largest and one of the most threatened ecosystems in East Africa. Although several studies have investigated the climatic impacts of land changes on local and global climate, the main focus has been on forest loss and the impacts of bushland clearing thus remain poorly understood. Measuring the impacts of bushland loss on local climate is challenging given that changes often occur at fragmented and small patches. Here, we apply high-resolution satellite imagery and land surface flux modeling approaches to unveil the impacts of bushland clearing on surface biophysical properties and its associated effects on surface energy balance and land surface temperature. Our results show that bushland clearing leads to an average reduction in evapotranspiration of 0.4 mm day−1. The changes in surface biophysical properties affected the surface energy balance components with different magnitude. The reduction in latent heat flux was stronger than other surface energy fluxes and resulted in an average net increase in daytime land surface temperature (LST) of up to 1.75 K. These results demonstrate the important impact of bushland-to-cropland conversion on the local climate, as they reveal increases in LST of a magnitude comparable to those caused by forest loss. This finding highlights the necessity of bushland conservation for regulating the land surface temperature in East Africa and, at the same time, warns of the climatic impacts of clearing bushlands for agriculture.
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