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May Rare Metallophytes Benefit from Disturbed Soils Following Mining Activity? The Case of the Crepidorhopalon tenuis in Katanga (D. R. Congo)

Authors

  • Michel-Pierre Faucon,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratoire de Génétique et Ecologie végétales—Université Libre de Bruxelles 1850, chaussée de Wavre, B-1160 Bruxelles, Belgium
    2. Université de Lubumbashi, Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
      M.-P. Faucon, email mfaucon@ulb.ac.be
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  • Ingrid Parmentier,

    1. Laboratoire d'Eco-Ethologie Evolutive—Université Libre de Bruxelles 50 Av. F. Roosevelt CP 160/12, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
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  • Gilles Colinet,

    1. Laboratory of Geopedology, Gembloux Agricultural University, Passage des Déportés 2, 5030 Gembloux, Belgium
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  • Grégory Mahy,

    1. Laboratory of Ecology, Gembloux Agricultural University, Passage des Déportés 2, 5030 Gembloux, Belgium
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  • Michel Ngongo Luhembwe,

    1. Université de Lubumbashi, Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
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  • Pierre Meerts

    1. Laboratoire de Génétique et Ecologie végétales—Université Libre de Bruxelles 1850, chaussée de Wavre, B-1160 Bruxelles, Belgium
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M.-P. Faucon, email mfaucon@ulb.ac.be

Abstract

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.

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