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Value of Small Patches in the Conservation of Plant-Species Diversity in Highly Fragmented Rainforest
- ARROYO-RODRÍGUEZ, VÍCTOR, PINEDA, EDUARDO, ESCOBAR, FEDERICO, BENÍTEZ-MALVIDO, JULIETA
- Conservation biology 2009 v.23 no.3 pp. 729-739
- deforestation, indigenous species, landscapes, plant density, tropical rain forests, tropics, Mexico
- We evaluated the importance of small (<5 ha) forest patches for the conservation of regional plant diversity in the tropical rainforest of Los Tuxtlas, Mexico. We analyzed the density of plant species (number of species per 0.1 ha) in 45 forest patches of different sizes (1-700 ha) in 3 landscapes with different deforestation levels (4, 11, and 24% forest cover). Most of the 364 species sampled (360 species, 99%) were native to the region, and only 4 (1%) were human-introduced species. Species density in the smallest patches was high and variable; the highest (84 species) and lowest (23 species) number of species were recorded in patches of up to 1.8 ha. Despite the small size of these patches, they contained diverse communities of native plants, including endangered and economically important species. The relationship between species density and area was significantly different among the landscapes, with a significant positive slope only in the landscape with the highest deforestation level. This indicates that species density in a patch of a given size may vary among landscapes that have different deforestation levels. Therefore, the conservation value of a patch depends on the total forest cover remaining in the landscape. Our findings revealed, however, that a great portion of regional plant diversity was located in very small forest patches (<5 ha), most of the species were restricted to only a few patches (41% of the species sampled were distributed in only 1-2 patches, and almost 70% were distributed in 5 patches) and each landscape conserved a unique plant assemblage. The conservation and restoration of small patches is therefore necessary to effectively preserve the plant diversity of this strongly deforested and unique Neotropical region.