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Functional traits partially mediate the effects of chronic anthropogenic disturbance on the growth of a tropical tree

Amahowe I.O., Gaoue O.G., Natta A.K., Piponiot-Laroche C., Zobi I.C., Herault B.. 2018. AoB Plants, 10 (3) : 13 p..

DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/ply036

Understanding how trees mediate the effects of chronic anthropogenic disturbance is fundamental to developing forest sustainable management strategies. The role that intraspecific functional diversity plays in such process is poorly understood. Several tree species are repeatedly defoliated at large scale by cattle breeders in Africa to feed livestock. In addition, these tree species are also debarked for medicinal purposes. These human-induced disturbances lead to biomass loss and subsequent decline in the tree growth. The main objective of this work is to investigate how functional traits mediate tree response to chronic anthropogenic disturbance. We used a unique data set of functional traits and growth rate of 503 individual tree of Afzelia africana. We collected data on leaf mass per area (LMA), wood density (WD) and growth rate, and recorded history of human disturbances (debarking, pruning) on individual tree from 12 populations of A. africana distributed in two ecological zones in Benin (West Africa). We tested the effect of disturbances on absolute growth rate across ontogenetic stages, assessed the role of intraspecific trait variability on growth and tested the role of tree functional strategy on the tree growth response to debarking and pruning. We found that debarking did not affect stem growth, suggesting a fast compensatory regrowth of bark wounded. Moreover, tree response to debarking was independent of the functional strategy. By contrast, we found that pruning reduced tree absolute growth; however, trees with low WD were more strongly affected by pruning than trees with high WD. Our results emphasize the importance for plant functioning of the interplay between the availability of leaves for resource acquisition and a resilience strategy by mobilizing stored resources in stem wood to be reinvested for growth under severe disturbances.

Mots-clés : afzelia africana; défoliation; taille; facteur anthropogène; éleveur pastoral; aliment pour animaux; feuille; bénin

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