Fonteyn D., Vermeulen C., Gorel A.-P., Silva de Miranda P., Lhoest S., Fayolle A. [2023] Biogeography of central African forests: Determinants, ongoing threats and conservation priorities of mammal assemblages. Diversity and Distributions. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.13677

Aim: Central Africa shelters diverse and iconic megafauna, which is threatened by climate and land-use changes and increased hunting induced defaunation. Though crucial for coordinating regional conservation actions, how species assemblages are spatially structured remains poorly understood. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap for mammals across central African forests.
Location: Tropical moist forests from Nigeria to the Albertine Rift.
Methods: An extensive compilation of forest-dwelling mammal species lists was made from wildlife and bushmeat-related surveys across central Africa. A beta-diversity approach enabling the clustering of surveys composed of similar species was imple- mented to identify and delimit zoogeographic districts, separately for three well-documented mammal orders: carnivores, primates and artiodactyls. Random forest classification models were then used to identify the environmental determinants of the district’s distribution and to produce a continuous zoogeographic map (and associated uncertainties) critical to assess the conservation status of each district and their ongoing threats.
Results: While carnivores do not present a clear spatial structure within central African forests, our findings highlight the structuring role of rivers on both primate and artiodactyl assemblages’ distributions. We retained eight and six spatially congruent districts for primates and artiodactyls, respectively. These districts were shaped by the Ubangi- Congo River system, and the Cross and Sanaga Rivers, with a secondary role of insularity and precipitation identified for primates. Highly threatened districts were highlighted, especially in Nigeria and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the latter including vast areas that are understudied and poorly represented in the protected area network.
Main Conclusions: Beyond refining our understanding of the diversity and uniqueness of mammalian assemblages across central African forests, our map of zoogeographic districts has far-reaching implications for the conservation of highly threatened taxa, allowing to target species and areas of interest for further sampling, conservation and rewilding efforts.