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The association between rainforest disturbance and recovery, tree community composition, and community traits in the Yangambi area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2022

Jonas Depecker*
Division of Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity Conservation, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium Meise Botanic Garden, Nieuwelaan 38, 1860Meise, Belgium KU Leuven Plant Institute, Leuven, Belgium
Justin A. Asimonyio
Centre de Surveillance de la Biodiversité et Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, DR Congo
Ronald Miteho
Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, DR Congo
Yves Hatangi
Meise Botanic Garden, Nieuwelaan 38, 1860Meise, Belgium Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, DR Congo
Jean-Léon Kambale
Centre de Surveillance de la Biodiversité et Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, DR Congo
Lauren Verleysen
Division of Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity Conservation, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium Plant Sciences Unit, Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Carittasstraat 39, 9090Melle, Belgium
Piet Stoffelen
Meise Botanic Garden, Nieuwelaan 38, 1860Meise, Belgium
Steven B. Janssens
Meise Botanic Garden, Nieuwelaan 38, 1860Meise, Belgium Division of Molecular Biotechnology of Plants and Micro-organisms, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium KU Leuven Plant Institute, Leuven, Belgium
Benoit Dhed’a
Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, DR Congo
Filip Vandelook
Meise Botanic Garden, Nieuwelaan 38, 1860Meise, Belgium KU Leuven Plant Institute, Leuven, Belgium
Olivier Honnay
Division of Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity Conservation, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium KU Leuven Plant Institute, Leuven, Belgium
Author for correspondence: Jonas Depecker, Email:


Despite their key role in biodiversity conservation, forests in the Congo Basin are increasingly threatened by human activities, but it remains challenging to assess the impact of forest degradation under a more or less intact canopy. Likewise, forest recovery following agricultural abandonment remains poorly understood in the Congo Basin. Here, we surveyed 125 vegetation quadrats across 25 forest inventory plots in the Yangambi area. We aimed to find associations between both selective logging and forest recovery, and a range of forest community and tree community trait characteristics, as compared to reference undisturbed old-growth forest. We found that plots in undisturbed old-growth forest harboured both more tree individuals and tree species with a higher wood density as compared to plots in disturbed old-growth forest. In addition, their tree community composition was significantly different, whereas species diversity recovered since relatively recent agricultural abandonment (< 60 years), community composition and forest structure remained significantly different from the plots in undisturbed old-growth forest. Our study provides some insights into the rate of forest recovery in the Congo basin after agricultural abandonment and highlights the need of proper conservation of the remaining relatively undisturbed old-growth forests. Finally, we stress the need for more extensive vegetation surveys in the Congo Basin to further unravel the effects of anthropogenic disturbance.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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