Journal article

Soil-vegetation patterns in secondary slash and burn successions in Central Menabe, Madagascar

Slash and burn agriculture is a traditional and predominant land use practice in Madagascar and its relevance in the context of forest preservation is significant. At the end of a cycle of culture, the fields become mostly weed covered and the soil fertility starts to drop. As a consequence, these fields are abandoned (they are called “monka”) and the farmers, in the best case, re-use old surfaces where the vegetation has recovered to some extent. Nevertheless, some of the farmers continue to extend part of their cultures into the natural forest. In order to decrease deforestation, the paper focuses on the potential for agricultural re-use of monkas. To do so, we present the soil–vegetation pattern along a slash and burn successional gradient from newly cultivated surfaces to surfaces abandoned for 40 years. Vegetation relevés were carried out on 61 plots sampled on yellow and red soils, and soil variables such as loss of ignition, pH, total carbon content and total nitrogen content were measured. Results show that: (1) by the 10th year of abandonment woody species are increasing, and after 21–30 years herbaceous plants become less dominant, (2) the species richness increases with age of abandonment, but flattens out by 40 years, (3) by 20 years of fallow, the loss of ignition, total carbon and total nitrogen show similar values or even higher values than in cultivated surfaces, (4) the yellow soils are related to higher pH more than the red soils and are preferred for cultivation, but the higher pH of yellow soils is not associated with higher species richness. Given these results, we conclude that fields older than 20 years have recovered sufficient fertility to be re-used as agricultural land. This re-use would decrease impacts on natural forests. But beyond the nutrient perspective, critical problems remain, including the growing demand for arable land and the need for cultivation to control invasive weeds.


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