Deforestation in Africa is slowing down, with the amount of rainforest lost falling by a third in the last decade compared to the previous 10 years.

The figures have been revealed in Proceedings B, the Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, also known as the Royal Society B.

A series of studies, published in a themed issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the journal, show how deforestation in the Congo Basin has "dramatically slowed" since 2000, with 181,500 hectares being cleared compared with 285,400 in the decade before.

This is equivalent to 710 football pitches being lost compared with 1,120 - the net deforestation rate fell from 0.16% to 0.1%.

Philippe Mayaux and a team from the Joint Research Centre analysed satellite images of the Congo Basin.

They believe the drastic reduction is a result of better management of forests under timber exploitation and the increased contribution of oil and mineral industries to the income of the Congo Basin.

The African wet tropics account for around 30% of the global rainforest cover and are a "key component" in the planet's system. Included in the special edition is a map of the current rainforest and how it has changed in the past 20 years.

The reduction in deforestation is in part due to financial incentives to stop logging (Reuters)

"Global and regional climate change is a major issue for this century," the authors said. "In the context of African rainforests, there is much still to understand both about the patterns of present and future climate, and in the potential responses of rainforests to this change."

As well as looking at the past and present state of the rainforest, the authors look at the challenges posed by climate change and conservation of forest carbon stocks.

Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds, said: "This special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B fills many important gaps in our understanding of Africa's rainforests.

"The results highlight that modest investments in Africa-related science reap major knowledge rewards. African rainforests require careful study and monitoring to best understand their trajectory, which can then assist those living in countries with rainforest to make wise choices to simultaneously enhance human welfare and maintain Africa's stunning living heritage."

Lewis told the BBC that the scientists were surprised at the fall in deforestation and warned that this may not last: "The big increase in human population and the rise in living standards globally means we may need more agricultural commodities... It could go the other way and go much more like South East Asia or the Amazon, and see the expansion of commercial agriculture."