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Young tropical forests contribute little to biodiversity conservation
Date:12/12/2013

plots ranging from two to 32 years of age in which they counted more than 52,000 trees, palms and lianas. To the authors' knowledge, this was the first metacommunity study of its kind ever conducted in the tropics.

In the study plots, researchers found 324 tree and shrub species, about 55 percent of Agua Salud's suite of approximately 600 tree species. They estimated relative reproductive size thresholds and determined that in forests between 18 and 34 years of age, 51 percent (137 of 268 species) reached reproductive size. In forests between two and seven years of age, the figure fell to 36 percent (79 of 220 species). Importantly, these included few large-canopy species, slow-growing shade-tolerant understory species and species that depend on forest-dependent animals for seed dispersal.

If left undisturbed, secondary forests may regain levels of tree diversity similar to those of mature forestsbut only when the surrounding landscape includes natural seed sources like protected parkland, patches of old forest and remnant trees as it did in this case. The research underscores the importance of protecting old forests to maintain the tree diversity for which the tropics are famous.

"In the long term, we might see a distinct shift in the functional composition of human-altered landscapes," said van Breugel. "This kind of landscape becomes more and more dominated by a small group of species with specific traits like the ability to survive grazing and fire, high fecundity, good dispersal and the ability to grow to a reproductive age in a short period of time. On the other hand, many shade-tolerant trees are poorly dispersed, grow slowly and depend on forest-bound species for pollination and dispersal. Their conservation will depend on our ability to protect large areas of old-growth forests."


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Contact: Sean Mattson
mattsons@si.edu
202-633-4700 x8290
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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