The African rainforest: Odd man out or megafaunal landscape? African and Amazonian forests compared


Journal Article

© 2016 Nordic Society Oikos. Africa has been called the 'odd man out' because the hectare-scale tree diversity of African equatorial forests is lower than that of forests in other parts of the tropics. Low diversity has been attributed to the smaller area of the African forest and a history of drought, fire and contraction. Several facts shed doubt on this interpretation. The current area of the central African forest is roughly 2 million km2. Even during periods of Pleistocene contraction, numerous moist refugia remained, including 6 posited for Gabon, a country the size of the U. S. state of Colorado. The gamma-diversity of Gabon is high, implying higher alpha diversities. Finally, tree diversities on small islands in the Solomons and Fiji archipelagos are twice those prevalent in Gabonese forests, suggesting that historical contractions may not have been sufficient to reduce diversity to its current level. To place the African situation in perspective, we compared tree stands in Gabon and the Peruvian Amazon. Peruvian forests contained a mean of 618 trees ≥ 10 cm dbh per ha vs 377 for Gabon, or 64% more. Peruvian forests contained relatively more small trees (≥ 10, <20 cm dbh) and many fewer large trees (≥ 20 cm dbh) than Gabonese forests. These structural differences were consistent across 10 Gabonese and 10 Peruvian sites and transcended local gradients in climate and geology, suggesting that they are intrinsic to the two continents. Tree species diversity in Perú is concentrated in the small tree class (≥ 10, <20 cm dbh), whereas it is highest in the larger tree classes in Gabon. Alpha diversity is apparently lower relative to gamma diversity in Africa than it is in Amazonian Perú , implying higher beta diversity. The densities of small plants (<1 m tall) are similar in Gabonese and Peruvian forests; the observed structural differences develop later at the sapling and small tree stages. Explaining the low hectare-scale diversity of African forests thus reduces to understanding why the density and diversity of small trees is so anomalously low.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Terborgh, J; Davenport, LC; Niangadouma, R; Dimoto, E; Mouandza, JC; Schultz, O; Jaen, MR

Published Date

  • February 1, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 39 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 187 - 193

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1600-0587

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0906-7590

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/ecog.01643

Citation Source

  • Scopus