Pouteau R. et al. [2024 ] The puzzling ecology of African Marantaceae forests. American Journal of Botany. e16320 –  DOI: 10.1002/ajb2.16320
Marantaceae forests are tropical rainforests characterized by a continuous understory layer of perennial giant herbs and a near absence of tree regeneration. Although widespread in West‐Central Africa, Marantaceae forests have rarely been considered in the international literature. Yet, they pose key challenges and opportunities for theoretical ecology that transcend the borders of the continent. Specifically, we ask in this review whether open Marantaceae forests and dense closed‐canopy forests can be considered as one of the few documented examples of alternative stable states in tropical forests. First, we introduce the different ecological factors that have been posited to drive Marantaceae forests (climate, soil, historical and recent anthropogenic pressures, herbivores) and develop the different hypotheses that have been suggested to explain how Marantaceae forests establish in relation with other vegetation types (understory invasion, early succession after disturbance, and intermediate successional stage). Then, we review the underlying ecological mechanisms that can explain the stability of Marantaceae forests in the long term (tree recruitment inhibition, promotion of and resilience to fire, adaptive reproduction, maintenance by megaherbivores). Although some uncertainties remain and call for further empirical and theoretical research, we found converging evidence that Marantaceae forests are associated with an ecological succession that has been deflected or arrested. If verified, Marantaceae forests may provide a useful model to understand critical transitions in forest ecosystems, which is of particular relevance to achieve sustainable forest management and mitigate global climate change.