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Keywords:

  • anthropogenic habitats;
  • conservation;
  • ecological niche;
  • metallophyte;
  • plant communities;
  • restoration

Cuprophytes are plants that mostly occur on Cu-rich soil. In South Central Africa, these species are threatened by intensive mining exploitation destroying their habitats. Crepidorhopalon tenuis (Scrophulariaceae) is a tiny annual cuprophyte endemic to the Zambesian center of endemism and is particularly abundant in the Lubumbashi area. We investigate here the ecological niche of C. tenuis through the analyses of its abundance and distribution in relation to soil factors, plant community composition, and anthropogenic perturbations. Soil and vegetation data were collected in seven sites (five metalliferous and two nonmetalliferous). The current study shows that C. tenuis has its ecological optimum on copper-rich soil and can be referred to as an elective pseudometallophyte. This species is rare in primary steppic savanna on natural metalliferous soil. Its frequency and abundance peak in pioneer communities on bare soil. In particular, the species showed a surprising ecological plasticity as it was able to benefit from anthropogenic disturbance and to colonize the large areas of bare, contaminated soil left over by mining activities. Our results strongly suggest that C. tenuis was a very rare species in natural metalliferous communities, restricted to patchy areas of open soil in steppic savanna. Recent anthropogenic habitats may have conservation value for some rare metallophytes with colonizing traits and low competitive ability.