ecological wood anatomy; life history traits; tropical Africa; Congo Basin; anatomical features; leaf phenology; shade tolerance; wood density; seed dispersal; tree size; vessels
[en] In the context of global change understanding the interactions between plant ecology and plant physiology remains a crucial issue. In this study we aimed at analyzing the vascular characteristics involved in the ecological traits of woody species from the northern Congo Basin. We crosschecked three databases: the botanical inventories (857 spp.) and the database of life history traits (464 spp.) produced during the CoForChange project, and the anatomical database Inside Wood (761 spp. and genera for tropical Africa). A total of 211 shared species was obtained. We performed correspondence analyses between the tangential diameter of the vessel lumina (40-43), the number of vessels per mm² (46-50) and five life history traits: leaf phenology, light requirement, seed dispersal, tree size and wood density. Species were distributed along a gradient from species with numerous small vessels to species with few large vessels. This distribution was correlated to a gradient in leaf phenology and light requirement: from evergreen shade-tolerant species to deciduous non-pioneer and pioneer light-demanding species. Dispersal followed this distribution in a lesser extent: from zoochoria to autochoria via anemochoria. Finally, a gradient in size was observed, from small shrubs to tall trees, as well as a gradient in wood density, from dense to light woods. We conclude that the ecological traits of the African tropical woody species are closely related to their hydraulic functioning. The strategies adopted by plants regarding light and water availability can thus be deduced from their vascular characteristics. On this basis we anticipate that climate change will foster light-demanding tree species as better competitors than shade-tolerant species, especially as drought stress is concerned. Further research is needed to increase the input of wood anatomy in explaining the life history traits in African tropical species.