Thesis subject

Ecosystem services of central African Marantaceae forests

The Environmental Systems Analysis Group provides the possibility for students to do their thesis in collaboration with our group. This is one of many possible thesis subjects. Please feel free to contact Dr Le Clec’h (right) for more information.

The MSc thesis will be part of a broader research project that aims at studying the spatial and temporal dynamics of the central African Marantaceae forests, in order to understand the mechanisms that underpin their origin and maintenance.

The thesis will focus on a peculiar but widespread forest type, the Marantaceae forests. These forests can be found in large areas in Central Africa and have a very low density of trees with a dense understory composed of giant herbs. The few studies on Marantaceae forests suggest that they are likely to have originated from old disturbances and have been then maintained over long periods through still unknown mechanisms. Current observations suggest that human disturbances, such as logging activities, as well as climate anomalies, contribute to the rapid expansion of these degraded forests, which could have considerable consequences for local populations. However, the respective contribution of Marantaceae forests and of the surrounding dense forests to the well-being of local populations have been poorly documented. The thesis will contribute to fill this gap by documenting the ecosystem services provided by Marantaceae forests and the uses the local populations make of these forests. Questions addressed in the thesis could be:

  • Who are the stakeholders using Marantaceae forests or involved in their management?
  • What are the uses of the Marantaceae forests by the local populations, and does these uses differ from one linguistic group to another?
  • What are the goods and services provided by Marantaceae forests?
  • What links can be made between the goods and services provided by Marantaceae forests and socioeconomic benefits and values for the local communities;
  • What are the main stresses and threats to the ecosystems that may restrain the sustained delivery of the goods and services used by the local populations?
  • What are the differences between Marantaceae and dense forests in terms of benefits for local populations?
  • What can explain changes in forest cover and type, according to the populations?
  • How have these changes affected the benefits the different populations get from dense and Marantaceae forests?
  • How diverse or heterogeneous can Marantaceae forests be, in terms of composition and their associated ecological functions, ecosystem services and uses?

To answer these questions, ethnobotanical surveys will be carry out to analyse the perceptions of Marantaceae forests by the local populations, focusing on different linguistic groups.

Ultimately this thesis will give insights on the way human interact with a very unique ecological systems and may thus lead to recommendations for forest preservation and management for a sustainable management of forest resources.

Because field work will be carried out in the North of the Republic of Congo (all associated costs will be covered by the project), candidates are expected to be fluent in French.

Starting date: t.b.d. but international travelling needs to be allowed.