Ecological Research

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 119–132 | Cite as

The impact of selective logging and clearcutting on forest structure, tree diversity and above-ground biomass of African tropical forests

  • Roberto Cazzolla GattiEmail author
  • Simona Castaldi
  • Jeremy A. Lindsell
  • David A. Coomes
  • Marco Marchetti
  • Mauro Maesano
  • Arianna Di Paola
  • Francesco Paparella
  • Riccardo Valentini
Original Article


Tropical deforestation is well known to have serious negative consequences for biodiversity, terrestrial carbon sinks and the balance of atmospheric greenhouse gases. By contrast, selective logging of tropical forests is often regarded as having a lesser impact on the ecosystem particularly in long terms, even though there have been few critical evaluations of the practice, particularly in Africa. We compared field data from 511 plots in the tropical forest of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon and Gabon. These plots were subject to different forest management practices: no recent logging (primary forests), selective logging (up to 30 years old) and re-grown secondary forests post clear-cutting (at least 20 years ago). Our findings suggest that the vertical structure and plant richness of the selectively logged and secondary forests change in different amplitude from those of primary forests, but stem density and the prevalence of vine and weed species differ greatly. We show that the effects of selective logging are greater than those expected simply from the removal of commercial species, and can persist for decades. Selective logging, unless it is practiced at very low harvest intensities, can significantly reduce the biomass of a tropical forest for many decades, seriously diminishing aboveground carbon storage capacity, and create opportunities for weeds and vines to spread and slow down the ecological succession.


Africa Biodiversity Biomass Forest degradation Selective logging Tropical forests 



This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Grant for Africa GHG project. We thank Bia National Park and Ankasa Forest Reserve guides and operators, Ghana and Cameroon Forestry Commissions, Mr. Ntim Gyakari and Mr Seth Nuamah for thier invaluable work on the taxonomy of West African tree species, the Gola Forest Programme and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security of Sierra Leone and the Gabonese Herbarium staff.

Supplementary material

11284_2014_1217_MOESM1_ESM.eps (32.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (EPS 33528 kb).


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto Cazzolla Gatti
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  • Simona Castaldi
    • 2
  • Jeremy A. Lindsell
    • 3
  • David A. Coomes
    • 4
  • Marco Marchetti
    • 5
  • Mauro Maesano
    • 5
  • Arianna Di Paola
    • 6
  • Francesco Paparella
    • 7
  • Riccardo Valentini
    • 1
    • 6
  1. 1.Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-Food and Forestry Systems (DIBAF)University of TusciaViterboItaly
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesSeconda Università di NapoliCasertaItaly
  3. 3.The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The LodgeSandyUK
  4. 4.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  5. 5.Department of Bioscience and Territory (DIBT)University of MolisePesche (IS)Italy
  6. 6.Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change (CMCC)LecceItaly
  7. 7.Department of Mathematics and Physics “Ennio De Giorgi”University of SalentoLecceItaly

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