Innovative scientific tool shows rare species and rich biodiversity in certified forests in Central Africa

"Central African Forests Forever”: Championing Sustainability Solutions in the Congo Basin
December 11, 2023
Category : General news

Preliminary results from an impact evaluation conducted in Gabon confirm the conservation value of FSC-certified forests for biodiversity. Many species have been found and in greater abundances compared to uncertified forests.

To ensure the resilience of forest ecosystems, we need to protect their unique biodiversity. FSC standards are developed to ensure that FSC-certified forests maintain this biodiversity, including rare and threatened species and their habitats.  To better understand whether FSC standards are effective and thus demonstrate the benefits of responsible forest stewardship, FSC is implementing a robust monitoring and evaluation system. To that end, we are conducting field-based impact evaluations involving experts and researchers. In view of upscaling and replicating impact evaluations of FSC, we’re exploring innovative effective methods and technologies to collect data in the field.  

Impact evaluation on biodiversity in Gabon

In Gabon, FSC-certified forest management has strict requirements for the management of watercourses and their crossing, which influences soil erosion and water sedimentation. This, in turn, is thought to influence water quality and its associated biodiversity. FSC requires good management of bushmeat hunting which is likely to benefit such hunted species such as large mammals. Given the very high biodiversity in central African tropical forests and the numerous threats they are facing, FSC commissioned a research project to better understand how FSC-certified forest stewardship, and especially the above-mentioned requirements, contribute to preserving biodiversity. To do so, we designed a project collecting field data in two FSC-certified and two neighbouring non-certified forest concessions in Gabon to conduct a comparison.

Environmental DNA (eDNA)

eDNA sampling kit (c) Spygen
eDNA sampling kit (c) Spygen

Conducting such field studies and collecting data in tropical forests can be very demanding and costly. Traditional methods to monitor biodiversity are no exception. They often require technical experts to come to the field to identify species with direct observations which is typically very time-consuming. However, there is now a modern tool called environmental DNA (eDNA) that allows sampling biodiversity with unprecedented cost-effectiveness and efficiency. This method consists of sampling the ecosystem, usually water, to capture DNA traces left by living organisms in the environment (via biological material such as mucus, feces, tissue particles, hair, etc.) confirming their presence. The actual field sampling is easy, fast and does not require any biological expertise. It is not invasive and allows identifying species without direct observation.

eDNA sample
A collected eDNA sample to be analysed (c) Spygen

Collected eDNA samples, which comprise a few cubic centimetres, are sent to a specialized laboratory for analyses to evaluate the richness of species and related taxa.  An advantage of eDNA is that the presence of very rare and discrete species, which are usually quite difficult to find using traditional scientific inventory techniques, can be confirmed with less effort and resources. The eDNA tool has lots of potential for monitoring of biodiversity in FSC-certified forests across the globe, so we decided to use this technology for our research in Gabon as a pilot study to learn more about its use, applicability, and limitations.

What did we find?

To explore the effects of FSC requirements, we conducted our sampling in watersheds close to areas that were recently subject to logging. We targeted the laboratory analyses on a broad range of taxonomic groups such as insects, vertebrates, fish, amphibians and mammals. 

The analysis revealed the presence of charismatic species such as the African forest elephant, chimpanzee, gorilla, and the leopard. We have also detected more cryptic threatened mammal species in FSC-certified forests, such as two species of pangolins, the elusive giant otter shrew (Potamogale velox), the feline mammal African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata), and the Cameroon anomalure (Zenkerella insignis), an extremely rare and unknown species of rodent. Notably, some interesting patterns were seen, giving new insights into what could be good bioindicators of well-preserved watercourses.

A manuscript of the study is being written and will be published in an international peer-reviewed scientific journal. FSC is convinced of the need to monitor impacts of certification. Biodiversity is a key element of a healthy forest, thus important impact of responsible forest stewardship. Using eDNA has proven to be an effective tool to measure biodiversity within forest concessions. Additionally, collecting eDNA samples is relatively easy and could empower forest managers to monitor their own forests more effectively. More research and studies are undoubtably needed to robustly demonstrate the impacts of FSC and to monitor key biodiversity aspects in different regions.  

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