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Disentangling how management affects biomass stock and productivity of tropical secondary forests fallows

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

A better understanding of biomass production in secondary forests after cultivation is essential for assessing the resilience of slash and burn systems and their capacity to deliver ecosystem services. Biomass production is influenced by management legacies, landscape configuration and soil, but these drivers are rarely studied simultaneously, nor is the role of changes in vegetation properties in linking them to biomass production. We assessed how management legacies affect biomass in secondary forests created by slash and burn in the central Congo Basin, and tested whether changes in productivity could be attributed to changes in stem density, functional diversity, functional identity or soil. Using data from 6452 trees in 96 fallow plots nested in 3 study sites, we looked for the main determinants of aboveground biomass (AGB) of woody vegetation in fallow systems. Next, using a subset of 58 plots in fallow fields aged 5 to 10 years, we used confirmatory path analysis to explore the relations between management history, soil, vegetation properties and biomass productivity. The sampled fallow fields had, on average, 58.4 (±46.2) Mg ha−1 AGB. AGB was positively related to both fallow age and to the proportion of remnant trees in AGB and negatively related to the number of previous cultivation cycles. Biomass productivity varied with the number of previous slash-and-burn cycles, with notable declines in the fourth cycle. The effect of management history was mainly through a reduction in the dominance of fast growing tree species and in the number of regenerating stems, which were also indirectly affected by an increase in C. odorata cover. Soil fertility status and the biomass of remnant trees also modified biomass productivity. Our findings suggest that under the current management intensity the capacity of the slash and burn system to provide important ecosystem functions, such as carbon sequestration, is declining.
Journal: Science of the Total Environment
ISSN: 0048-9697
Volume: 659
Pages: 101 - 114
Publication year:2019