P064_DR Congo

The importance of soil communities in regrowing deforested Congo

Cooperating countries: DR Congo and Austria

Coordinating institution: University of Vienna, Professor Dr. Andreas Richter, 

Partner institution: Université Catholique de Bukavu

Project duration: 1 December 2022 - 30 November 2024


Tropical rainforests hold a key role in the global carbon and water cycle, and thus in climate regulation. An important component of any climate change mitigation strategy is to keep up this natural carbon sink in the future. However, forest degradation and deforestation of tropical rainforests are at an all-time high, and the most endangered rainforests worldwide are those in Africa, where human population is expected to double by 2050. Whether or not natural mitigation strategies will be available in the future depends on whether tropical forests can be protected and if degraded forests can be re-grown.

In this project we address the overall questions (i) if forest re-growth in deforested DR Congo can replenish soil organic matter pools and sustain forest biomass and what role the nutrient provisioning by the soil communities plays in this. Forest productivity and carbon stocks are strongly dependent on nutrient availability, and soil microbes and soil fauna hold a key role in nutrient cycling and provisioning. Yet, we know little about how belowground communities are responding to aboveground changes in the tropics via their composition and function.

We will explore the impact of changes in soil fauna and microbial community composition for forest regrowth in a series of existing secondary forest sites of different successional status, linked to the Eddy Flux Tower in the primary forest of Yangambi. Our work is strongly linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 13 and 15 and the results will extend our understanding of tropical rainforests in a changing world including often-neglected belowground dynamics.