Riparian forests, a unique but endangered ecosystem in Benin
Natta, Armand K.; Sinsin, Bricevander; Maesen, L. Jos G.
published: Aug 5, 2002
Riparian forests are often small in area, but are of extreme ecological and economic value for local people. The interest of riparian forests lies in their resources: basically fertile and moist soils, water, wood and non-timber forest products that are utilised by neighbouring populations to satisfy their basic needs and as source of income. Their abusive overuse is widespread and growing in Benin. As a result rich biological resources, especially plant species, are disappearing before they can be inventoried and assessed. Most recent management plans for protected areas barely consider the conservation of riparian forests. The forest law in Benin recognises their uniqueness, but several problems arise in the implementation of the rules in these particular areas. The most common and widespread tree species in riparian forests in Benin are Pterocarpus santalinoides, Cola laurifolia, Syzygium guineense, Berlinia grandiflora, Elaeis guineensis, Manilkara multinervis, Xylopia parviflora, Dialium guineense, Diospyros mespiliformis and Parinari congensis. Waterways and their forested banks are rich in birdlife, and serve as a focal point for primates and animals of many kinds. Site-specific studies at ground level are essential to assess riparian systems because their narrow linear shapes generally require data on plant community structure, floristic composition and animal presence. Details of vegetation layers under the dominant trees cannot yet be detected by remotely sensed data. This paper presents an overview of the biological diversity of riparian forests in Benin and discusses several issues associated with their protection and conservation.