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The potential of secondary forests to restore biodiversity of the lost forests in semi-deciduous West Africa

Amani B.H.K., N'Guessan A.E., Derroire G., N'dja J.K., Elogne A.G.M., Traoré K., Zo-Bi I.C., Herault B.. 2021. Biological Conservation, 259 : 10 p..

DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109154

In West Africa, more than 80% of the original forest cover has disappeared due to the exponential growth of human populations in a recurrent search for new agricultural land. Once the fertility of the land is exhausted, these areas are abandoned and left to be reforested through natural succession. Despite the widespread presence of secondary forests of various ages in West African landscapes, little is known about the trajectories of recovery and the environmental factors that influence recovery rates. We set up 96 0.2 ha forest plots, along a chronosequence of 1 to 40 years and including 7 controls, on which all trees larger than 2.5 cm in diameter at breast height were inventoried. We modelled the recovery trajectories of four complementary dimensions of biodiversity (richness, diversity, composition, indicators of old-growth forest) in a Bayesian framework. Our results show that the four dimensions of biodiversity recover at different rates, with composition recovering much faster than floristic diversity. Among the local, landscape, and historical factors studied, the number of remnants and proximity to old-growth forests have a positive impact on recovery rates, with, under good environmental conditions, the composition, richness, and diversity being almost completely recovered in less than 25 years. Our results demonstrate the very high resilience of the composition of the semi-deciduous forests of West Africa, but also suggest that the management of these post-forest areas must be differentiated according to the landscape context and the presence of isolated trees, which are the last vestiges of the former forest. In unfavourable conditions, natural dynamics should be assisted by agroforestry practices and local tree planting to allow for a rapid restoration of forest goods and services to local populations.

Mots-clés : biodiversité; forêt tropicale; forêt secondaire; restauration; environmental restoration [en]; reconstitution forestière; restauration couverture végétale; terre abandonnée; côte d'ivoire; forêt semi-décidue

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