Effects of habitat fragmentation on plant guild structure in the montane Atlantic forest of southeastern Brazil

Marcelo Tabarelli, Waldir Mantovani, Carlos A. Peres

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283 Citations (Scopus)


Habitat fragmentation is a major cause of biodiversity erosion in tropical forests. The Brazilian Atlantic forest has both high species richness and a long history of anthropogenic disturbance, beginning with colonial agriculture in the sixteenth century. Here we examine the species composition and guild structure of woody plants within five montane Atlantic forest fragments of the Tiet River basin, State of Sao Paulo, southeastern Brazil, ranging from 5 to 7900 ha in area. We found a negative relationship between fragment size and the relative importance of tree and shrub species that (1) depend on abiotic modes of seed dispersal, (2) are shade-intolerant, and (3) occupy the forest canopy. As fragment size decreased, there was a marked rise in the relative importance of ruderal species, primarily in the Compositae, Euphorbiaceae, Solanaceae, and Leguminosae. There also was a 9% average decline in smaller fragments in relative importance of Myrtaceae, Lauraceae, Sapotaceae, and Rubiaceae, which are the main sources of fleshy fruits for vertebrate frugivores in these forests. Our results suggest that predictable shifts in plant guild structure occur as tropical forest fragments are reduced in size, and that small fragments may become dominated by edges and the surrounding habitat matrix. We suggest that small forest fragments will be unlikely to preserve intact plant and animal assemblages of Brazil's Atlantic coastal forest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1999


  • Atlantic forest
  • Brazil
  • Edge effects
  • Guild composition
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Ruderal species

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