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Gateway to the forests of Central Africa: towards a unified collaborative model of forest dynamics

Garcia C., Bastin J.F., Rejou-Mechain M., Chamagne J., Dauby G., Viennois G., Droissart V., Dessard H., Stévart T., Hardy O.J., Gillet P., Vermeulen C., Gond V., Fayolle A., Bretagnollei F., Oszwald J., Doucet J.L., Gourlet S., Pélissier R.. 2016. In : Plinio Sist (ed.), Stéphanie Carrière (ed.), Pia Parolin (ed.), Pierre-Michel Forget (ed.). Tropical ecology and society reconciliating conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Program and abstracts. Storrs : ATBC, p. 350. Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC 2016), 2016-06-19/2016-06-23, Montpellier (France).

Background: The tropical forests in general, and those of Central Africa in particular, stand at the cross-road. The combined and interacting effects of land-use change, resource extraction, defaunation, fire, fragmentation and climate change are pushing these ecosystems towards critical points where transitions to altered states will happen. The future of these forests depends on our capacity to understand and anticipate these transitions, and to identify these states the forest ecosystems are likely to take. Yet, to date, there was not a unified model that presented the best available knowledge on the forest dynamics of the regions. The field is highly fragmented and we lack a general overview. Method: We propose here a general unified model of forest dynamics in Central Africa. This model represents the best available knowledge on the topic and is the result of a collaborative effort based on expert knowledge and an analysis of the literature. We built it using methods issued from the fields of facilitation, participatory modelling and team science. Result: Our model identifies the main forest types present in the area, the dynamic links and possible transitions between them and the potential impacts of environmental factors - climate, soil, large mammals - and human factors - logging, fire, clearings. It provides a description of these forest types and allows the layman to grasp the general dynamics at play in the region. For those willing to deepen their understanding, we provide all the necessary literature leads to guide them in their discovery of the topic. Conclusion: Our aim is to propose as an easy to access gateway for those needing to take decisions on how to manage the forests of Central Africa in the coming decades. It sums up our current understanding of the system, helps chart knowledge gaps and highlight avenues for future research, serving as basis for discussions. An accepted common understanding of the dynamics of these forests will be solid foundation for alternative modes of management to emerge, we hope it will foster dialog between key stakeholders, and generate better informed decisions, more resilient to surprises. (Texte intégral)

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