The role of remnant trees in carbon sequestration, vegetation structure and tree diversity of early succession regrowing fallows in eastern Sierra Leone

Remnant tree presence affects forest recovery after slash-and- burn agriculture. However, little is known about its effect on above-ground carbon stocks, especially in Africa. We focused our study on Sierra Leone, part of the Upper Guinean forests, an important centre of endemism threatened by encroachment and forest degradation. We studied 99 (20-m-radius) plots aged 2-10 years with and without remnant trees and compared their above-ground carbon stocks, vegetation structure (stem density, basal area) and tree diversity. Above-ground carbon stocks, stem density, basal area, species richness and tree diversity increased significantly with fallow age. Remnant tree presence affected significantly tree diversity, species dominance and above-ground carbon stocks, but not vegetation structure (stem density, basal area). Number of remnant trees and number of species of remnant trees were also important explanatory variables. Although other factors should be considered in future studies, such as the size and dispersal modes of remnant trees, our results highlight that more strategic inclusion of remnant trees is likely to favour carbon stock and forest recovery in old fallows. To our knowledge, this is the first study on early succession regrowing fallows in West Africa.