Bhasin O., Doucet J.-L., Ndonda Makemba R., Gillet J.-F., Deblauwe V., Sonké B., Hardy O. J.  Contrasted spatial, demographic and genetic structures of a light-demanding African timber species, Cylicodiscus gabunensis Harms – Implications for a sustainable management of its populations. Forest Ecology and Management 551. doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2023.121527
Most Central African rainforest canopies consist of light-demanding tree species that hold high commercial value but also suffer locally from regeneration deficits, raising concerns about the sustainability of logging. Regeneration is influenced by factors such as past perturbations (including human activity), mating systems, and seed/ pollen dispersal processes that impact demographic, spatial, and genetic structures within populations. To gain a better understanding of these interactions, we studied the spatial distribution and trunk diameter structure of Cylicodiscus gabunensis (Fabaceae) – a wind-dispersed, insect-pollinated, timber species – in three plots ranging from 400 to 839 ha situated in various environmental contexts (e.g. forest types and elephant densities) across Central Africa. We also genotyped adults and juveniles using microsatellite markers to analyze the spatial genetic structure of each population and infer the selfing rate, seed and pollen dispersal capacities and selection gradients using the ‘neighborhood model’. The selfing rate was low (3 – 4 %), and seed dispersal distances (ds = 184 m) were much shorter than pollen dispersal distances (dp > 2 km). The three populations displayed contrasted spatial, demographic and genetic structures. One population showed no spatial aggregation or genetic structure, and a multimodal diameter structure indicating pulses of regeneration events. Two populations showed strong spatial aggregation and genetic structures. One exhibited a unimodal diameter structure indicating one ancient pulse of regeneration, while the other displayed a ’reverse J-shaped’ diameter structure, typical of ongoing regeneration. In the latter, reproductive success appeared leptokurtic, three mother trees accounting for over 90 % of the regeneration and no tree below the minimum cutting diameter implemented by logging companies had offspring. The idiosyncratic nature of population characteristics observed in C. gabunensis suggests that, for sustainable management, a nuanced approach is needed. This involves protecting productive seed trees in areas where natural regeneration is occurring and actively supporting regeneration in areas exhibiting deficits, especially in contexts with low elephant densities.
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