Habitat fragmentation and the future structure of tree assemblages in a fragmented Atlantic forest landscape

Edgar E. Santo-Silva, Wanessa R. Almeida, Marcelo Tabarelli, Carlos A. Peres

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The biodiversity value of human-modified landscapes has become a central question in the tropical forest conservation biology, yet the degree to which plant populations and communities are restructured in response to environmental change remains unclear. Here, we address tree species density in a fragmented Atlantic forest landscape to test the hypothesis that tree assemblages inhabiting edge-dominated forest habitats approach typical conditions of early successional systems. Seedlings and adults from 141 tree species were sampled across 39 0.1-ha plots: 19 in small fragments (<100 ha) and 20 in mature forest stands within the interior of the largest forest remnant of the study landscape (3500 ha). A total of 5448 seedlings and adults were recorded, with >55 % of all tree species exhibiting higher densities in small fragments than in mature forest, particularly pioneers (>60 % of all species). Seedlings and adults of these proliferating species differed from species exhibiting population declines in terms of wood density and seed size, respectively. Additionally, pioneers were more abundant than shade-tolerant species, as were hardwood species in the case of seedlings. Tree species showing highest population increases consisted largely of long-lived, light-demanding canopy species bearing soft or hardwood and small-to-medium-sized seeds. Tree assemblage structure also differed in terms of forest habitats with small forest fragments supporting few rare species, whereas the most rapidly proliferating species were much more widespread and abundant in fragments. However, 60 % of all adult pioneer species recorded in small fragments were not recorded as seedlings in this habitat type, although both seedling and adult assemblages were dominated by pioneer species. Edge-dominated tree assemblages are likely to experience long-term shifts toward greater dominance of long-lived, pioneer canopy species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1129-1140
Number of pages12
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number9
Early online date25 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • Extinction debt
  • Forest fragmentation
  • Pioneer species
  • Population density
  • Seed size
  • Tree assemblages
  • Tropical forest
  • Wood density

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