Réjou-Méchain M., Mortier F., Bastin J.-F., Cornu G., Barbler N., Bayot N., Bénédet F., Bry X., Dauby G., Deblauwe V., Doucet J.-L., Doumenge C., Fayolle A., Garcia C., Kimambe Lubamba J.-P., Loumeto J.-N., Ngomanda A., Ploton P., Sonké B., Trottler C., Vimal R., Yongo O., pélissier R., Gourley-Fleury S. [2021] Unveiling African rainforest composition and vulnerability to global change. Nature 593, 90–94 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03483-6

Abstract : Africa is forecasted to experience large and rapid climate change1 and population growth2 during the twenty-first century, which threatens the world’s second largest rainforest. Protecting and sustainably managing these African forests requires an increased understanding of their compositional heterogeneity, the environmental drivers of forest composition and their vulnerability to ongoing changes. Here, using a very large dataset of 6 million trees in more than 180,000 field plots, we jointly model the distribution in abundance of the most dominant tree taxa in central Africa, and produce continuous maps of the floristic and functional composition of central African forests. Our results show that the uncertainty in taxon-specific distributions averages out at the community level, and reveal highly deterministic assemblages. We uncover contrasting floristic and functional compositions across climates, soil types and anthropogenic gradients, with functional convergence among types of forest that are floristically dissimilar. Combining these spatial predictions with scenarios of climatic and anthropogenic global change suggests a high vulnerability of the northern and southern forest margins, the Atlantic forests and most forests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where both climate and anthropogenic threats are expected to increase sharply by 2085. These results constitute key quantitative benchmarks for scientists and policymakers to shape transnational conservation and management strategies that aim to provide a sustainable future for central African forests.

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