Shoot and root responses of woody species to silvicultural management for afforestation of degraded croplands in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Benin.
In the Sudano-Sahelian zone of West Africa, where deforestation and cropland soil degradation occur at alarming rates, the (re-)introduction of trees on degraded lands can improve and sustain farming systems and landscapes. The shoot and root morphological traits of five woody species introduced to degraded cropland were assessed with a particular focus on the survival, early establishment and growth of saplings subjected to manuring (1 kg per plant) and drip irrigation (0.5 L of water per plant per day). Functional traits of the woody above- and belowground organs of field-grown plants were monitored for the first 15 months after planting, covering two growing (rainy) seasons and one dry season. The high survival rate (>60%), combined with a very low incidence rate (<1%), for all species was evidence of successful establishment overall. The highest survival rates (94-100%) were observed in Jatropha curcas L., Leucaena leucocephala Lam. and Moringa oleifera Lam. The mortality rate of the most drought-sensitive species Parkia biglobosa Jacq. could be reduced ten-fold through supplemental irrigation during the dry season. The fast-growing L. leucocephala, M. oleifera and J. curcas had higher values for shoot-level traits than did the slow-growing Anacardium occidentale L. and P. biglobosa. Fertilization and irrigation enhanced the shoot growth of both the fast and slow growers during the dry and growing seasons. In contrast, belowground development was either increased or reduced by fertilization and irrigation during the growing and dry seasons, but the slow growers demonstrated a more plastic response to these treatments than did the fast growers. Among the studied traits, the relative growth rate of plant as a whole (i.e. shoots and roots combined) exhibited the greatest plastic response to resource availability, thus suggesting its application in screening candidate species for afforestation efforts. Overall, the five studied species were considered suitable for the afforestation of degraded croplands, while the early growth and establishment of saplings could be boosted by irrigation and a supply of manure.