Paracou belongs to a type of experiment set up in the 1970s and 1980s to study the impact of silvicultural treatments on the dynamics of natural tropical rainforests.

The objective was to improve the timber production of commercially valuable species. At the time, the main sites in the Amazon were Zanderij Belt in Surinam, and Tapajos and Curua-Una in Brazil. The Forest Department of CIRAD (formerly CTFT), which established Paracou in 1983, already had experience with such operations through similar experiments in Africa (M’Baiki in Central African Republic, N’Gouha II in the Congo, Mopri, Irobo, La Tene and Yapo in Ivory Coast, and Oyan in Gabon), and would later contribute, using the same layout, to setting up ZF2 (near Manaus, Brazil) and Berau (Western Kalimantan, Indonesia). The objective of having a network of similar experiments was to allow comparative studies, in different environmental conditions and with different types of forests.

At the beginning of the project, the site was covered with a moist evergreen rain forest, which had never undergone major modern human disturbance, except, in some places, occasional extraction of Balata gum (Manilkara bidentata, Sapotaceae). Some selective logging also probably occurred in the past, but without detectable consequences on the stands as far as floristic composition, structure and dynamics were concerned. Going far back to the past, it is now clear that some parts of the Paracou forest (plot 1, plot 3) were used by precolumbian human populations to settle. Dating charcoals with radiocarbon, we estimate this precolumbian occupancies around 1000-500 BP.

In the early 80s, a first inventory was carried out on a 476 ha area; it sought homogeneous places in terms of soils, standing commercial timber, and density of future commercial trees. This allowed, in 1984, the delimitation of 12 square plots of 9 ha each, located on soils with mainly superficial drainage, supposed to be the most widespread type in the coastal part of French Guiana. The stands are representative of the Kourou-Sinnamary region, according to previous large scale surveys carried out in this area.

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