L'article du mois (juillet 2019)

The light-deficient climates of Western Central African evergreen forests.

Nathalie Philippon, Guillaume Cornu, Lou Monteil, Valery Gond, Vincent Moron, Julien
Pergaud, Geneviève Sèze, Sylvain Bigot, Pierre Camberlin, Charles Doumenge, Adeline
Fayolle, Alfred Ngomanda
. Environmental Research Letters, 2019, 14 (3).

Rainfall thresholds under which forests grow in Central Africa are lower than those of Amazonia and SE Asia. Attention is thus regularly paid to rainfall whose seasonality and interannual variability has been shown to control Central African forests’ water balance and photosynthetic activity. Nonetheless, light availability is also recognized as a key factor to tropical forests. Therefore this study aims to explore the light conditions prevailing across Central Africa, and their potential impact on forests traits.

Using satellite estimates of hourly irradiance, we find first that the 4 main types of diurnal cycles of irradiance extracted translate into different levels of rainfall, evapotranspiration, direct and diffuse light. Then accounting for scale interactions between the diurnal and annual cycles, we show that the daily quantity and quality of light considerably vary across Central African forests during the annual cycle: the uniqueness of Western Central Africa and Gabon in particular, with strongly lightdeficient climates especially during the main dry season, points out. Lastly, using an original map of terra-firme forests, we also show that most of the evergreen forests are located in Western Central Africa and Gabon. We postulate that despite mean annual precipitation below 2000 mm/yr, the light-deficient climates of Western Central Africa can harbour evergreen forests because of an extensive low-level cloudiness developing during the June-September main dry season, which strongly reduces the water demand and enhances the quality of light available for tree photosynthesis.