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See detailRecords of human activity during the late-Holocene in the soils of the African dense humid forest
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Biwolé, Achille; Bourland, Nils ULg et al

Conference (2014, April 30)

Recently, several authors gathered data about the presence of past human populations in tropical regions covered by dense forest nowadays. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past ... [more ▼]

Recently, several authors gathered data about the presence of past human populations in tropical regions covered by dense forest nowadays. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic coast, but very little information is available further inland. In this perspective, soil records seem to be the most appropriated so as to appraise the spatial and temporal extent of human activity in the African dense humid forest. In this paper, we thus aimed to present a synthesis of the archaeological and archaeobotanical data obtained during several fieldwork campaigns in an archaeologically unexplored area of 200,000 km² located in southern Cameroon and the northern Republic of Congo. A total of 275 test pits, among them 30 pedological pits up to 150 cm deep, were excavated in the study area. So as to get a long temporal scale as well as a fine resolution spatial scale, we quantified wood charcoal and charred endocarps in soil samples by layers of 10 cm taken for 100 pits located along transects of systematic sampling. Spatial projections were performed using statistics together with multivariate analyses. AMS radiocarbon dating allowed interpreting the temporal framework. Evidence of past human activities through either artifacts or charred botanical remains was observed in all pits, in particular with the ubiquitous presence of charcoal at each site. Main charcoal peaks were interpreted as fields (slash-and-burn agriculture) in the vicinity of ancient villages, the later marked by the presence of both potsherds and oil palm endocarps. The dichotomy of these kinds of activities may have impacted differentially the environment during the past. The set of 73 radiocarbon dates extending from 15,000 BP to the present time provided more dates in the late-Holocene showing a bimodal distribution which was interpreted as two phases of human expansion with an intermediate phase of population crash. The 2300–1300 BP phase is correlated with the migrations of supposed farming populations from northwestern Cameroon. Between 1300 and 670 BP, less material could be dated. Following that population collapse, the 670–20 BP phase corresponds to a new period of human expansion known as the Late Iron Age. The dates obtained support the established chronology reported for whole central Africa. This study underlines the necessity of fieldwork efforts and of the usefulness of archives sealed in soil records so as to bring new, extensive and precise evidence of human activities in the Congo Basin. [less ▲]

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See detailHistoire humaine des forêts tropicales du nord du Bassin du Congo durant les deux derniers millénaires
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Biwolé, Achille; Bourland, Nils ULg et al

Scientific conference (2014, March 26)

Identifier les indices d’activités humaines anciennes et les mettre en relation avec la composition floristique actuelle grâce à une approche multidisciplinaire.

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See detailWood charcoal analysis: a relatively new tool for palaeoecology in tropical Africa
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Biwole, Achille ULg; Bourland, Nils ULg et al

Scientific conference (2014, February 14)

This is an introduction about wood charcoal properties, collection and taxonomical identification in the framework of palaeoecological studies in Central Africa through examples of possible applications.

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See detailA short insight into the ecology of Pericopsis elata (Harms) Meeuwen (Fabaceae) in southeastern Cameroon
Bourland, Nils ULg; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg

Scientific conference (2014, February 14)

Some key points of the autecology of Pericopsis elata in Southeastern Cameroon. Implications are given for the sustainable forest management of the species in the context of selective logging.

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See detailNew Evidence of Human Activities during the Holocene in the Lowland Forests of the Northern Congo Basin
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Gillet, Jean-François et al

in Radiocarbon (2014), 56(1), 209-220

In the last decade, the myth of the pristine tropical forest has been seriously challenged. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic forests ... [more ▼]

In the last decade, the myth of the pristine tropical forest has been seriously challenged. In central Africa, there is a growing body of evidence for past human settlements along the Atlantic forests, but very little information is available about human activities further inland. In this study, we aimed at determining the temporal and spatial patterns of human activities in an archaeologically unexplored area of 110,000 km² located in the northern Congo Basin and currently covered by dense forest. Fieldwork involving archaeology as well as archaeobotany was undertaken in 36 sites located in southeastern Cameroon and in the northern Republic of Congo. Evidence of past human activities through either artifacts or charred botanical remains was observed in all excavated test pits across the study area. The set of 43 radiocarbon dates extending from 15,000 BP to the present time showed a bimodal distribution in the Late Holocene which was interpreted as two phases of human expansion with an intermediate phase of depopulation. The 2300–1300 BP phase is correlated with the migrations of supposed farming populations from northwestern Cameroon. Between 1300 and 670 BP, less material could be dated. This is in agreement with the population collapse already reported for central Africa. Following this, the 670–20 BP phase corresponds to a new period of human expansion known as the Late Iron Age. These results bring new and extensive evidence of human activities in the northern Congo Basin and support the established chronology for human history in central Africa. [less ▲]

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See detailDynamique d’une espèce ligneuse héliophile longévive dans un monde changeant : le cas de Pericopsis elata (Harms) Meeuwen (Fabaceae) au sud est du Cameroun
Bourland, Nils ULg

Doctoral thesis (2013)

The Central African forests are characterized by high species richness. While little light generally reaches their litter layer, among the species encountered are major long-lived light-demanding logged ... [more ▼]

The Central African forests are characterized by high species richness. While little light generally reaches their litter layer, among the species encountered are major long-lived light-demanding logged trees. These species may have established in the past because of large disturbances. Indeed, major climate changes have occurred in the past few millennia, in some areas coupled with strong human occupations. Among these light-demanding species we find the assamela / afrormosia (Pericopsis elata (Harms) Meeuwen, Fabaceae), a large high trading value tree of African semi-deciduous moist forests. Nowadays this logged species suffers from significant regeneration problems on its natural range from Ghana to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Therefore, it is included in CITES Appendix II and is recorded as “Endangered A1cd” on the IUCN Red List. No convincing solution can be found in the available scientific literature to overcome the deficiency of its regeneration. In addition, little or no information is available describing ca. its population dynamics, genetics, silviculture or the probable origin of its stands. It is in this context that the present PhD was undertaken. In this study, we have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the dynamics of this population rich in long-lived light-demanding species logged in the Congo basin. Moreover, we have suggested ways for their management and conservation in a changing world. To do so, we have adopted as a study-model the case of P. elata in southeastern Cameroon. The main results of the study show that, on a local scale, physico-chemical soil parameters have no influence on the presence or absence of this clustered species. However, on the same scale, large quantities of charcoal were found in the soil, mainly inside those clusters. The anthracological analysis has also shown that the vegetation at the time of the burn was similar to that of today. Numerous fragments of pottery were also found in the top soil layers only inside clusters formed by the species. Finally, some 14C datings go back to ca. 200 years BP, which is approximately the average age of concerned clusters. This body of evidence leads us to conclude on an ancient form of shifting cultivation as the most likely origin of the assamela populations currently present in southeastern Cameroon. In addition to its current population structure within the study area, several parameters controlling its population dynamics were estimated. While the annualized natural mortality of the species reaches about 1%, its average diameter growth rate is 0.31 cm.year-1, which is a relatively low value compared to other long-lived light-demanding species. Selective logging seems to have only a light influence on the behavior of the species. On the other hand, the impact of logging on its seed tree populations is only ca. 12%. Each seed tree bears fruit on average only once every five years. The minimum diameter of reproduction and the effective flowering diameter were respectively 32 and 37 cm. The recovery rate, varying greatly from one country to another, is more than 100% in Cameroon, where the conservation status assigned to the species seems excessive. A sufficient regeneration by planting should allow the perpetuation of the assamela populations in the long run, as with other major logged light-demanding trees. [less ▲]

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See detailDe la paléoécologie à l'écologie actuelle : 2000 ans d'interaction homme-milieu dans le nord du Bassin du Congo
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Bentaleb, Ilham; Biwole, Achille ULg et al

Poster (2013, November 06)

La forêt tropicale africaine a longtemps été considérée comme vierge du passage de l’homme. Cependant, plusieurs études récentes en paléoécologie et archéologie ont démontré la présence d’activités ... [more ▼]

La forêt tropicale africaine a longtemps été considérée comme vierge du passage de l’homme. Cependant, plusieurs études récentes en paléoécologie et archéologie ont démontré la présence d’activités humaines anciennes à partir d’indices paléoenvironnementaux (i.e. pollens de plantes anthropophiles) et d’artefacts (i.e. tessons de céramique). Ces études sont toutefois trop rares en raison de difficultés de terrain pour repérer et accéder aux sites archéologiques (couvert végétale dense, absence de pistes). De grandes zones à l’intérieur des terres demeurent donc inexplorées. Par ailleurs, peu d’études se sont penchées sur la question de l’impact de ces activités anthropiques passées sur la structure et la composition de la végétation actuelle. Grâce à une approche multidisciplinaire à la frontière entre sciences humaines et sciences de l’environnement (archéologie, pédoanthracologie : charbons de bois des sols, écologie forestière), notre objectif est d’identifier des indices d’activités humaines anciennes, lesquels sont été mis en relation avec les patrons actuels de végétation. Nos trois zones d’étude sont localisées en forêt tropicale humide de type guinéo-congolais et sont réparties dans le sud-ouest et sud-est du Cameroun et le nord de la République du Congo. Le long d’une vingtaine de transects de plusieurs kilomètres, nous avons appliqué un protocole systématique de récolte de matériel archéologique et archéobotanique dans des fosses situées sur des parcelles d’inventaire botanique. Ceci nous a permis de récolter plus d’un millier d’échantillons contenant des macrorestes végétaux carbonisés ainsi que des artefacts inédits pour la région (pierre taillée et polie, tessons de céramique, scories de métallurgie) et d’inventorier la végétation dans l’environnement immédiat des découvertes. L’analyse spatiale et temporelle (chronologie relative et par datation radiocarbone) des macrorestes a permis d’identifier des villages entourés de probables champs agricoles (agriculture itinérante sur brûlis). Les 68 datations radiocarbones et les types céramiques obtenus suivent une chronologie archéologique en deux phases : un âge du Fer ancien entre 2300 et 1300 BP et un âge du Fer récent se poursuivant jusqu’à la période subactuelle, entre 670 et 20 BP. Entre ces deux phases d’occupation, les traces d’activités anthropiques sont rares. La première phase d’activités serait à mettre en relation avec une fragmentation de la forêt dense à la suite d’un épisode climatique aride autour de 2500 BP, permettant ainsi aux populations de pénétrer la forêt. Un épisode plus humide à partir de 800 BP, avec un retour d’un couvert plus dense, aurait fait reculer les populations humaines. Leur rétablissement dans les forêts se serait produit conjointement à des conditions plus sèches. Ces trois phases rejoignent la chronologie générale établie à l’échelle de l’Afrique centrale. Les premiers taxons identifiés parmi les macrorestes végétaux carbonisés, graines et charbons de bois, démontrent l’utilisation ancienne du palmier à huile et d’arbres fruitiers sauvages. Les espèces ligneuses identifiées sont présentes dans le cortège floristique actuel. L’identification taxonomique des charbons de bois devrait nous permettre de reconstituer l’environnement végétal au cours des deux derniers millénaires. Les différences observées dans les couverts forestiers passé et actuel en termes de composition floristique ainsi que la structure des peuplements actuels sont de bons indicateurs d’impacts récents de l’homme sur son milieu. [less ▲]

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See detailHow closely are Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) patches linked to past human disturbances in South-Eastern Cameroon
Bourland, Nils ULg; Cerisier, François; Daïnou, Kasso ULg et al

Conference (2013, June 26)

Studies conducted in the Congo Basin forests concluded that soil parameters and large disturbances induced by human activities since 3000–2000 BP could be the main driver for the persistence of long lived ... [more ▼]

Studies conducted in the Congo Basin forests concluded that soil parameters and large disturbances induced by human activities since 3000–2000 BP could be the main driver for the persistence of long lived light-demanding tall tree species. Today most of the timber species belong to this group, among them Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae). Like many other light-demanding trees, this species suffers from important regeneration problems. While the conditions for its establishment must have been met in the past, they obviously have become unfavourable. Because of ongoing logging activities and a natural decline of its populations, this species is recorded in both the IUCN Red List and the CITES Appendix II listings. Our goal was to investigate the roles of both pedological and anthropogenic factors in the persistence of forest patches characterized by this clustered species. Soil surveys, botanical inventories and anthracological excavations were conducted in three different forest sites located in south-eastern Cameroon. P. elata patches (3.3-14.7 ha) were studied and compared to their close surroundings. No statistical differences were observed between the results of botanical inventories conducted inside and outside the patches (Morisita-Horn indices from 0.69-0.77). Soils only differed in Fe content, but otherwise no significant differences could be observed. Charcoal is widespread and abundant in study sites, mostly inside the patches. Charcoal radiocarbon dating (2,150-195 BP) was consistent with decoration techniques of archaeological materials that we discovered. The average age of P. elata individuals coincides with fire events that occurred in a region where fires rarely occur naturally. We present evidence of past anthropogenic disturbances (human settlement, slash-and-burn cultivation) in the Congolese mixed moist semi-evergreen forest in south-eastern Cameroon. We discuss the potential influence of our findings on the management of light-demanding tall trees populations in a context of logging activities. [less ▲]

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See detailAnalyzing soil charcoals to assess the naturalness of tropical forest
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Gorel, Anaïs-Pasiphaé; Daïnou, Kasso ULg et al

Conference (2013, June 26)

For conservation biology and sustainable management, the natural character of tropical forest is a crucial issue. Its assessment is usually based on ecological proxies such as forest composition and ... [more ▼]

For conservation biology and sustainable management, the natural character of tropical forest is a crucial issue. Its assessment is usually based on ecological proxies such as forest composition and structure. However the estimation made on this basis only considers short term processes at a local scale. In contrast the long term processes are appraised by palaeoecological proxies (such as pollen) at a regional scale. So as to assess the degree of naturalness of tropical ecosystems in a conservation perspective it is important to combine a long temporal scale as well as a fine resolution spatial scale. Such approaches using palaeoecological proxies have been recently tested in temperate Europe but little in tropical ecosystems. Nonetheless the long term preservation of the palaeoecological material and its broad presence in the environment are necessary conditions to fulfill. In this perspective soil charcoal appears to meet these requirements. In this paper we aimed at assessing the naturalness of tropical forest using soil charcoal from southeastern Cameroon. Fieldwork involving as well archaeology as botany was undertaken at 53 sites. We quantified charcoal in soil samples by layers of 10 cm taken from pits located in the center of plots of botanical inventory. Spatial projections were performed using statistics together with multivariate analyses. Radiocarbon dating allowed interpreting the temporal framework. Results showed the ubiquitous presence of charcoal at each site. Main charcoal peaks were interpreted as fields (slash-and-burn agriculture) in the vicinity of ancient villages. These practices shaped the forest over time which cannot be considered as natural anymore. This underlines the potential input of the use of palaeoecological material in conservation biology and sustainable management issues. Charcoal fragments are under taxonomical identification and may provide new insights on the long term history of forest composition. [less ▲]

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See detailFunctional traits are weak predictors of tree sapling growth worldwide
Paine, C. E. Timothy; Auge, Harald; Baraloto, Christopher et al

Conference (2013, June 26)

Functional traits, well-defined characteristics of organisms that influence or coordinate with ecological performance, promise that one may predict vital rates, such as survival and growth, by measuring a ... [more ▼]

Functional traits, well-defined characteristics of organisms that influence or coordinate with ecological performance, promise that one may predict vital rates, such as survival and growth, by measuring a few aspects of anatomy and physiology. Functional traits have been shown to correlate significantly, though weakly, with the relative growth rate (RGR) of trees in five Neotropical forests. Here, we estimated size-standardized height RGR for 26344 saplings of 240 species from 23 sites around the world using nonlinear models of growth. We then predicted the contribution of three functional traits (specific leaf area, wood density and seed mass) to individual RGR with a hierarchical Bayesian model. The three functional traits, alone and in combination, explained a relatively small amount of variance in RGR, with variation among continents and between temperate and tropical regions. We echo the calls for researchers to shift toward the measurement of 'hard' functional traits, with clear linkages to realized vital rates, rather than 'soft' functional traits, which are easier to measure but may only indicate the theoretical maxima of vital rates. Doing so would advance ecology onto a more solidly functional foundation. [less ▲]

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See detailLes équations allométriques pan-tropicales plurispécifiques sont-elles valables en Afrique centrale ?
Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg; Gillet, Jean-François ULg et al

in Picard, Nicolas; Henry, Mathieu (Eds.) Compte-rendu de l'Atelier scientifique régional sur les équations allométriques en Afrique Centrale : PREREDD, Yaoundé 2-5 avril 2013 (2013, April)

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See detailLes forêts vierges du Bassin du Congo - mythe ou réalité ?
Morin-Rivat, Julie ULg; Bourland, Nils ULg; Gillet, Jean-François ULg et al

Scientific conference (2013, March 21)

Les forêts du bassin du Congo ont longtemps été considérées comme des massifs historiquement épargnés par l'action de l'homme. Des résultats plus ou moins récents de recherches scientifiques remettent en ... [more ▼]

Les forêts du bassin du Congo ont longtemps été considérées comme des massifs historiquement épargnés par l'action de l'homme. Des résultats plus ou moins récents de recherches scientifiques remettent en question cette vision des forêt denses humides africaines. [less ▲]

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See detailDispersal and predation of diaspores of Coula edulis Baill. in an evergreen forest of Gabon
Moupela, Christian ULg; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg; Daïnou, Kasso ULg et al

in African Journal of Ecology (2013), 52

The African walnut ( Coula edulis) is a tree species of African evergreen forests, the seeds of which are collected and traded by African people. Many animal species consume African walnut diaspores ... [more ▼]

The African walnut ( Coula edulis) is a tree species of African evergreen forests, the seeds of which are collected and traded by African people. Many animal species consume African walnut diaspores; however, their roles as dispersers or predators have yet to be clarified. In this study, we present observations conducted in two different habitats of a Gabonese region over a 3-year period. The originality of this research resides in the combination of three complementary approaches: (i) the use of camera-traps (ii) the exploration of land rodent burrows and (iii) the examination of elephant dung. In total, 408 camera-trap photographs have shown seven animal species involved in the dispersal/predation of C. edulis. Among these seven frugivorous species, the bush pig was found to be the main consumer and predator of seeds. Land rodents (Muridae) are potential predators, as they damaged the seeds and buried them deep in the soil. They may also play a role in the regeneration process as a result of the loss of seeds during transportation. Finally, no seeds appeared to emerge intact from elephant faeces. These results indicate that the natural regeneration rate of this tree species is low, unless other complex mecha-nisms are involved. [less ▲]

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See detailRéviser les tarifs de cubage pour mieux gérer les forêts du Cameroun
Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Rondeux, Jacques ULg; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg et al

in Bois et Forêts des Tropiques (2013), 317(3), 35-49

Volume tables are routinely used by forest planners and managers, but generally with no regard for the conditions in which they are applied (geographical zone, diameter range), which can cause errors in ... [more ▼]

Volume tables are routinely used by forest planners and managers, but generally with no regard for the conditions in which they are applied (geographical zone, diameter range), which can cause errors in estimations of timber volumes. The aim of this study is to test the validity of currently available volume tables, including those used by the government, for three commercial tree species in the forests of south-eastern Cameroon, and if required to propose tables suited to the study zone. The three species concerned are sapelli, Entandrophragma cylindricum, tali, Erythrophleum suaveolens, and assamela Pericopsis elata. Dendrometric data were collected by destructive sampling of 43 trees that were evenly distributed across the diameter range. Stemwood volume was calculated through successive butt-log measurements and linear and non-linear volume tables were adjusted by means of the weighted least-squares method. The results show that the best volume tables for all three species are non-linear. The equations used by the forests authority until now significantly under-estimate standing timber volumes and the estimation errors increase with the size of the trees. The proposed volume tables, once validated, should in future produce more accurate estimations of standing timber in the study zone. Given the international challenges involving Cameroon (FLEGT and REDD+), it is essential that it should have effective tools for estimating standing timber volumes. It is therefore important for Cameroon’s forests authority to conduct a large-scale programme to revise its volume tables. [less ▲]

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See detailTree allometry in Central Africa: Testing the validity of pantropical multi-species allometric equations for estimating biomass and carbon stocks
Fayolle, Adeline ULg; Doucet, Jean-Louis ULg; Gillet, Jean-François et al

in Forest Ecology & Management (2013), (305), 29-37

There is a lot of uncertainty in the amount and spatial variations of above-ground biomass in Africa, partly because very few allometric equations are available. The aim of this study was to assess the ... [more ▼]

There is a lot of uncertainty in the amount and spatial variations of above-ground biomass in Africa, partly because very few allometric equations are available. The aim of this study was to assess the validity of using pan-tropical multispecies allometric equations developed by Chave et al. (2005) for estimating the above-ground biomass of trees in Central Africa and/or to develop site-specific equations. The study was conducted in lowland tropical forests of South-eastern Cameroon, at the edge between evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. Data of above-ground woody biomass were obtained from destructive sampling of 138 trees belonging to 47 taxa across a huge range of diameter (5.30–192.50 cm) and wood specific gravity (0.284–1.152 g cm 3). A set of local site-specific multi- and single-species models relating above-ground biomass to tree diameter and wood specific gravity were fitted to the data. The best model was selected using information criterion. Both tree diameter and wood specific gravity were important predictor to consider for the estimation of above-ground biomass at tree scale. Single-species models were not necessarily better than multi-species models including wood specific gravity as a predictor. The best local multi-species model had the same structure and parameters as the pan-tropical equation developed by Chave et al. (2005) for moist forests. The estimates from the pan-tropical multi-species equation were nearly as good as those of the local multi-species equation. Using wood specific gravity from the global data base only slightly increased the estimation errors, because for the study taxa wood specific gravity was highly correlated to wood specific gravity from the global data base. In this study, we showed that the pantropical multi-species allometric equation developped for moist forests can be used to produce accurate estimates of biomass and carbon stocks from diameter measurement in forest inventory and wood specific gravity from global data base at species level. These findings are especially timely given the urgent need to quantify biomass and carbon stocks in the tropics, and given the spatial extent of moist forests in Central Africa. [less ▲]

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See detailEcology of Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae), a Timber Species Considered as Endangered, in Southeastern Cameroon
Bourland, Nils ULg; Kouadio, Yao Lambert; Lejeune, Philippe ULg et al

in Biotropica (2012), 44(6), 840-847

Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) is a tall tree of high commercial value of the moist semi-deciduous African forests. As a result of logging which started decades ago, it is considered as threatened and ... [more ▼]

Pericopsis elata (Fabaceae) is a tall tree of high commercial value of the moist semi-deciduous African forests. As a result of logging which started decades ago, it is considered as threatened and included on both IUCN Red List and CITES Appendix II even though essential biological parameters controlling its population dynamics remain unknown. This study aims at improving the knowledge of the species ecological parameters and at assessing the impact of selective logging on its populations in an 118,052 ha forest in Cameroon. After inventorying the species in 1,432 ha, mortality and growth were assessed over continuous 5- and 2-year periods in unlogged and logged areas, respectively. Phenology was monitored in the unlogged forest during 5 years. The population structure followed a bell-shaped curve. Mean annual diameter increments in both environments did not differ significantly between unlogged and logged areas. P. elata is a deciduous species that flowers at the end of the main dry season. The minimum reproduction and effective flowering diameters were, respectively, 32 and 37 cm. Fruit maturation took place during 7 months. With a minimum logging diameter of 90 cm, the recovery rate computed over a 30-year period was greater than 100%. Selective logging harvested only 12.1% of the total number of seed trees and had little influence on the species biological parameters. Securing sufficient regeneration as a post-logging action is probably the most important consideration for achieving long-term sustainability. Implications for the conservation status of the species are discussed at the regional level. [less ▲]

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