Effects of pioneer tree species hyperabundance on forest fragments in Northeastern Brazil

M Tabarelli, AV Aguiar, LC Girao, CA Peres, AV Lopes

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Despite many studies on fragmentation of tropical forests, the extent to which plant and animal communities are altered in small, isolated forest fragments remains obscure if not controversial. We examined the hypothesis that fragmentation alters the relative abundance of tree species with different vegetative and reproductive traits. In a fragmented landscape (670 km2) of the Atlantic Forest of northeastern Brazil, we categorized 4056 trees of 182 species by leafing pattern, reproductive phenology, and morphology of seeds and fruit. We calculated relative abundance of traits in 50 1-ha plots in three types of forest configurations: forest edges, small forest fragments (3.4-83.6 ha), and interior of the largest forest fragment (3500 ha, old growth). Although evergreen species were the most abundant across all configurations, forest edges and small fragments had more deciduous and semideciduous species than interior forest. Edges lacked supra-annual flowering and fruiting species and had more species and stems with drupes and small seeds than small forest fragments and forest interior areas. In an ordination of species similarity and life-history traits, the three types of configurations formed clearly segregated clusters. Furthermore, the differences in the taxonomic and functional (i.e., trait-based) composition of tree assemblages we documented were driven primarily by the higher abundance of pioneer species in the forest edge and small forest fragments. Our work provides strong evidence that long-term transitions in phenology and seed and fruit morphology of tree functional groups are occurring in fragmented tropical forests. Our results also suggest that edge-induced shifts in tree assemblages of tropical forests can be larger than previously documented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1654-1663
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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