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Mbau forest covers much of the Congo, and shifts in its composition could have a large impact on the African tropics. The Ituri forest in east Congo is near a boundary between the monodominant mbau type and non-mbau mixed forest, and two 20-ha censuses of trees ≥ 1 cm diameter were carried out over 12 y to monitor forest change. Based on published diameter allometry, mbau forest had 535 Mg ha−1 biomass above ground and gained 1.1 Mg ha−1 y−1. Mixed forest had 399 Mg ha−1 and gained 3 Mg ha−1 y−1. The mbau tree (Gilbertiodendron dewevrei) increased its share of biomass from 4.1% to 4.4% in mixed forest; other common species also increased. Sapling density declined at both sites, likely because increased biomass meant shadier understorey, but the mbau tree increased in sapling density, suggesting it will become more important in the future. Tree mortality and growth rates were low relative to other tropical forests, especially in the mbau plots. Shifting toward G. dewevrei would represent a large gain in carbon in the mixed forest, but mbau is presently more important as a high-carbon stock: biomass lost during forest harvest could not recuperate for centuries due to slow community dynamics.
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