Long-term erosion of tree reproductive trait diversity in edge-dominated Atlantic forest fragments

Ariadna Valentina Lopes, Luciana Coe Girão, Bráulio Almeida Santos, Carlos A. Peres, Marcelo Tabarelli

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Habitat loss and fragmentation promote relatively predicable shifts in the functional signature of tropical forest tree assemblages, but the full extent of cascading effects to biodiversity persistence remains poorly understood. Here we test the hypotheses that habitat fragmentation (a) alters the relative contribution of tree species exhibiting different reproductive traits; (b) reduces the diversity of pollination systems; and (c) facilitates the functional convergence of reproductive traits between edge-affected and early-secondary forest habitats (5-32 years old). This study was carried out in a severely fragmented 670-km2 forest landscape of the Atlantic forest of northeastern Brazil. We assigned 35 categories of reproductive traits to 3552 trees (DBH = 10 cm) belonging to 179 species, which described their pollination system, floral biology, and sexual system. Trait abundance was calculated for 55 plots of 0.1 ha across four habitats: forest edges, small forest fragments (3.4-83.6 ha), second-growth patches, and core tracts of forest interior within the largest available primary forest fragment (3500 ha) in the region. Edge-affected and secondary habitats showed a species-poor assemblage of trees exhibiting particular pollination systems, a reduced diversity of pollination systems, a higher abundance of reproductive traits associated with pollination by generalist diurnal vectors, and an elevated abundance of hermaphroditic trees. As expected, the reproductive signature of tree assemblages in forest edges and small fragments (edge-affected habitats), which was very similar to that of early second-growth patches, was greatly affected by both habitat type and plot distance to the nearest forest edge. In hyper-fragmented Atlantic forest landscapes, we predict that narrow forest corridors and small fragments will become increasingly dominated by edge-affected habitats that can no longer retain the full complement of tree life-history diversity and its attendant mutualists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1154-1165
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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