Most people probably think that the rainforest of central and west Africa, the second largest in the world, has been around for millions of years. However recent research suggests that it is mostly just 2,000 or so years old. The forest reached roughly its modern state following five centuries of regeneration after it was massively fragmented when the dry season suddenly became longer some 2,500 years ago.
This process was not linked to humans. The forest recovery was instead made possible by seed dispersers including chimpanzees, which helped spread the slower-growing rainforest tree species. However, dispersers such as chimpanzees are now threatened by deforestation and hunting, often for bushmeat. When combined with climate change, the resilience of the rainforests seems less guaranteed for the future.
I began thinking about natural processes in African forests back in 1993, when I was with my wife-to-be trying to follow wild chimpanzees next to Jane Goodall’s famous group at Gombe, in Tanzania. We were inspired by one of the directors of research at Gombe, Anthony Collins, who suggested that the chimpanzees might be influencing the composition of the forest for their own nutritional needs, by what fruits they pooed out and where. A kind of “proto gardening”. MORE
Header image: Alex Chepstow-Lusty, Author provided.