How persistent are the impacts of logging roads on Central African forest vegetation?

Published online
03 Aug 2016
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Kleinschroth, F. & Healey, J. R. & Sist, P. & Mortier, F. & Gourlet-Fleury, S.
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Publication language
Africa & Africa South of Sahara & Central Africa


Logging roads can trigger tropical forest degradation by reducing the integrity of the ecosystem and providing access for encroachment. Therefore, road management is crucial in reconciling selective logging and biodiversity conservation. Most logging roads are abandoned after timber harvesting; however, little is known about their long-term impacts on forest vegetation and accessibility, especially in Central Africa. In 11 logging concessions in the Congo Basin, we field-sampled a chronosequence of roads that, judging from satellite images, had been abandoned between 1985 and 2015. We assessed recovery of timber resources, tree diversity and above-ground biomass in three zones: the road track, the road edge (where forest had been cleared during road construction) and the adjacent logged forest. The density of commercial timber species <15 cm d.b.h. was almost three times higher in the road track (321 individuals ha-1) and edge (267) than in the logged adjacent forest (97). Over time, tree species diversity converged to a comparable level between roads and adjacent forests, along with an increase in canopy closure. The average width of forest clearing for road construction was 20 m, covering a total 0.76% of the forest area inside concessions. After 15 years following abandonment, road tracks had recovered 24 Mg ha-1 of above-ground woody biomass, which was 6% of that in the adjacent forest, while road edges had accumulated 167 Mg ha-1 (42%). Ten years after abandonment, roads were no longer penetrable by poachers on motorcycles. An exotic herb species was fully replaced by dominant Marantaceae that have even higher abundance in the adjacent forest. Synthesis and applications. Our evidence of vegetation recovery suggests that logging roads are mostly transient elements in the forest landscapes. However, given the slow recovery of biomass on abandoned road tracks, we advocate both reducing the width of forest clearing for road construction and reopening old logging roads for future harvests, rather than building new roads in intact forests. Road edges seem suitable for post-logging silviculture which needs to be assisted by removing dominant herbs during the early years after abandonment while the road track is still accessible.

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