archaeology; history; European colonization; central Africa; Cameroon; Republic of the Congo; Central African Republic; tropical forests; tropical Africa; tree ring analysis; radiocarbon; human settlements; human disturbances; slash and burn agriculture; charcoal; oil palm; erosion; tree age; IUCN; endangered species; light-demanding trees
[en] The canopy of central African moist forests is dominated by light-demanding trees. Most of these species show a distribution of diameters that indicates a regeneration shortage. Here we show through the combined analysis of botanical, palaeoecological, archaeological and historical data that most of these trees are not older than ca. 180 years. This age corresponds to the early 19th century (around 1830) when the slave-raiding, the interethnic wars and the colonization of the inlands by the Europeans disturbed the human spatial occupancy. After 1885, the spatial clumping of people and villages along the main communication axes induced less itinerancy in the forest. We believe that former activities such as shifting cultivation created scattered openings in the canopy, large enough to allow light-demanding trees to establish. Nowadays, common logging operations do not create openings sufficiently large for the regeneration of these high value timber species. Our findings emphasize the need to include considerations about the history of human spatial occupancy and activities to understand forest dynamics. We need silvicultural guidelines adapted to the autecology of the species. Population enforcements (e.g. enrichment) will be needed to ensure the sustainability of timber yields in forests dominated by long-lived light-demanding trees.
Environmental sciences & ecology Arts & humanities: Multidisciplinary, general & others Earth sciences & physical geography Physical, chemical, mathematical & earth Sciences: Multidisciplinary, general & others Life sciences: Multidisciplinary, general & others Archaeology History