The rainforests are the great green heart of Africa, and present a unique combination of ecological, climatic and human interactions. In this synthesis paper, we review the past and present state processes of change in African rainforests, and explore the challenges and opportunities for maintaining a viable future for these biomes. We draw in particular on the insights and new analyses emerging from the Theme Issue on 'African rainforests: past, present and future' of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. A combination of features characterize the African rainforest biome, including a history of climate variation; forest expansion and retreat; a long history of human interaction with the biome; a relatively low plant species diversity but large tree biomass; a historically exceptionally high animal biomass that is now being severely hunted down; the dominance of selective logging; small-scale farming and bushmeat hunting as the major forms of direct human pressure; and, in Central Africa, the particular context of mineral- and oil-driven economies that have resulted in unusually low rates of deforestation and agricultural activity. We conclude by discussing how this combination of factors influences the prospects for African forests in the twenty-first century.
Keywords: Africa; climate change; deforestation; hunting; logging; tropical rainforest.