Reference : Extent of paleofires and past human settlements in the current rainforest patchwork o...
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Poster
Life sciences : Agriculture & agronomy
Life sciences : Phytobiology (plant sciences, forestry, mycology...)
Extent of paleofires and past human settlements in the current rainforest patchwork of the Northern Republic of Congo
Gillet, Jean-François mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > > > Doct. sc. agro. & ingé. biol.]
Doucet, Jean-Louis [Université de Liège - ULiège > Forêts, Nature et Paysage > Laboratoire de Foresterie des régions trop. et subtropicales >]
Climate change, deforestation and the future of african rainforests International Conference
du 4 au 6 janvier 2012
Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests, University of Oxford
[en] Paleofires ; Past human settlements ; Northern Republic of Congo ; Human disturbance ; Charcoal
[en] Objectives

The origins of the patchwork of lowland semi-deciduous forests in the Northern Republic of Congo were apprehended. The aim of this study was to show that dense forests suffered fewer disturbances than the open canopy forest types. Old disturbances associated with fires and human settlements seem to have had and still have today a substantial impact on the physiognomy and the composition of the forest types. Understanding past forest dynamics is a major component to predict the effects of both present climate change and human activities.


Fifteen locations were studied along a 400-km-long SW-NE gradient in the NW of the Congo Basin through the ERA-net BiodivERsA CoForChange project. An anthraco-archaeological study was carried out in association with floristic inventories of three strata. Two main geology substrates were considered: the Mesozoic sandstones and Quaternary alluvial deposits.

The abundance of charcoal fragments and human artifacts were evaluated by a network of 1-m-deep boring augers (n =208) and a 1.5-m-deep reference soil pit (n =15) in each site. A rating system was used to quantify the abundance of charcoal, charred Elaeis guineensis seeds and other artifacts (ceramic and metallurgic slag). Estimations were based on 20-cm-depth intervals (augers) or on pedological layers (pits). Twelve radiocarbon dating were performed in the major disturbed layers of each vegetation type studied.


Two main groups of vegetation were highlighted according to the relative openness of the woody stand, the importance of the woody regeneration, and the development of the herbaceous cover.

The two dense forests sampled were preferentially found in the northern part: the dense forest with Manilkara mabokeensis and Haumania dankelmaniana, and the Gilbertiodendron dewevrei forest on dry land. Most parts of the understorey exhibited the woody regeneration.

The southern part presented more openness including the largest areas of open canopy vegetation types. Three forest types were identified: the Macaranga barteri pioneer forest, the open canopy vegetation type with Aframomum and Marantaceae, and the sparse forest with Megaphrinium macrostchyum and/or Haumania liebrestisiana. The understorey was a dense thicket of giant herbs belonging to the families Marantaceae and Zingiberaceae, causing a very scarce woody regeneration.

Regardless the auger depth, charcoals were more profuse in the soils of the southern open canopy vegetation types (2-Way ANOVA, F=5.46, p=0.02). As in pit layers, charred oil palm nuts were more plentiful in the soils of these vegetation types (Mann-Whitney test, p<0.05).

Of the five sites containing artifacts, only one recent potsherd dated 466-302 BP was located in dense forest but near a main river. The oldest signs of ceramic and metallurgical activities dated 2160-1407 BP were found in the current open canopy vegetation types. Within the latter, two expansion phases of the oil palm tree E. guineensis were observed: between 2146-1055 BP and 558-347 BP. Conversely, the oldest palaeofire was discovered in the M. mabokeensis dense forest and dated at 5467-5285 BP.


The dense forests contained less evidence of ancient fires and human settlements. They currently include evergreen and shade-tolerant tree species such as G. dewevrei and M. mabokeensis.

The more sustained and repeated fires in the open canopy vegetation types were often associated with ancient human occupation. Today, the light-demanding giant herbaceous species such as Aframomum sp. and M. macrostchyum proliferate in the understorey below a simplified woody component of pioneer species such as M. barteri.

The largest expansion phases of the oil palm tree E. guineensis in the southern part would be linked to ancient human occupation associated with larger canopy openings and fire events. The water availability, more evenly distributed near the heavily-irrigated Congo Basin, would also be a discriminating factor.
Researchers ; Professionals ; Students

File(s) associated to this reference

Fulltext file(s):

Restricted access
Poster_JFGIllet_Oxford_Jan_2012.pdfPublisher postprint2.07 MBRequest copy

Bookmark and Share SFX Query

All documents in ORBi are protected by a user license.