Lhoest S., Fonteyn D., Daïnou K., Delbeke L., Doucet J.L., Dufrêne M., Josso J.F., Ligot G., Oszwald J., Rivault E., Verheggen F., Vermeulen C., Biwolé A., Fayolle A.

[2020] Conservation value of tropical forests: Distance to human settlements matters more than management in Central Africa. Biological Conservation 241 (108351).

Tropical forests in Central Africa host unique biodiversity threatened by human degradation of habitats and defaunation. Forests allocated to conservation, production and community management are expected to have different conservation values. Here, we aimed to identify the determinants of the conservation value of tropical forests in southeastern Cameroon, by disentangling the effects of forest allocations, proximity to human settlements, and local habitat. We inventoried two taxonomical groups: mammal species with camera traps (3464 independent detection events) and dung beetle species with pitfall traps (4475 individuals). We used an integrated analytical approach, examining both species richness and composition. For both mammals and dung beetles, species richness decreased from the protected area to the community forests, and the logging concession showed intermediate richness. Species richness of both groups was negatively correlated to the proximity to human settlements and disturbance, with a decreasing gradient of body mass and the loss of the most threatened species. The replacement (i.e., spatial turnover) of both mammal and dung beetle species among forest allocations suggest an integration of conservation initiatives to a large number of different sites, with a priority on protected and remote areas of high biodiversity. These results confirm the high conservation value of protected areas and their essential role in conservation strategies, ecologically connected with well-managed production forests with variable conservation value mainly depending on accessibility. Community forests located close to villages are much more degraded but not totally defaunated and still provide bushmeat to local populations. © 2019 Elsevier Ltd

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