Interdisciplinary African forest landscapes: ecological and socio-historical sciences for understanding forests today



September 10, 2019 - University of Lausanne, Synathlon building

How do forests respond to historical and societal change? What can be learned in the life-span of a long-lived tropical tree? Forests have been greatly impacted by anthropogenic activities for thousands of years and have responded to histories of agriculture, trade, disease and resource extraction, amongst others. These influences can be discerned through modifications to soil, topography and vegetation, including the presence of light-demanding species of mono-dominant forests. Yet throughout the humid tropics, when forest vegetation change has been studied through different types of ecological and forestry plots, the focus has been often limited to forest dynamics, timber, and biodiversity and not in reference to the social, historical and political dynamics that have created these forests. Collaboration across the ecological and socio-historical sciences can enrich the insights and inferences from plot-based studies to address this gap; however, this requires interdisciplinary collaboration.


A conference will be held to explore the contribution that the historical and social sciences can make to ecological studies of forest dynamics and the specific methods and approaches required to achieve a multi-disciplinary understanding of forests over recent time periods, such as the Anthropocene,  and the impact on current and future forest structure and biodiversity. Such studies would view forests through layers of data sets across layers of time. This approach will not only illuminate how forests have reacted to recent, past societal change, but how they continue to evolve in their current settings and what this means for the people who live in these forests today. This research will help us to consider the role that societies have had and continue to have on shaping these forests, the capacity of forests to recover from historical disturbances, and the implications for forest management and conservation.

For a full review of the issue, please see this new article published by the conference organisers in the journal Anthropocene

  • Walters, G., Fraser, J. A., Picard, N., Hymas, O., & Fairhead, J. (2019). Deciphering African tropical forest dynamics in the Anthropocene : How social and historical sciences can elucidate forest research and management. Anthropocene, 27, 100214.


Place: University of Lausanne, Synathon building, room 2218


Time: 9:00 – 17:30


Please register your participation by September 6, 2019


Programme  (194 Ko)

Invited Speakers include:

  • Patrick Addo-Fordjour, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Kojo Amanor, Department of History, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
  • Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend,  ICCA Consortium Association (Territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities)
  • Nestor Engone, Herbier National du Gabon, Institut de Recherche en Ecologie Tropicale, Gabon
  • James Fairhead, University of Sussex, Sussex Rights and Justice Research Centre, United Kingdom
  • James Fraser, Lancaster Environment Center, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
  • David Kenfack, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, USA
  • Paulin Kialo, l'Institut de Recherche en Sciences Humaines/CENAREST, Gabon
  • Christian Kull, Faculty of Geosciences and the Environment, UNIL
  • Paul Lane, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Prince Osei-Wusu Adjei, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Richard Oslisly, Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux- Gabon / Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
  • Leanne Phelps, Faculty of Geosciences and the Environment, UNIL
  • Maxime Réjou-Méchain, AMAP, IRD, CNRS, CIRAD, INRA, Université Montpellier, France
  • Tariq Stévart, Missouri Botanical Garden, USA