Synergistic effects of subsistence hunting and habitat fragmentation on Amazonian forest vertebrates

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Subsistence game hunting has profound negative effects on the species diversity, standing biomass, and size structure of vertebrate assemblages in Amazonian forests that otherwise remain largely undisturbed. These effects are likely to be considerably aggravated by forest fragmentation because fragments are more accessible to hunters, allow no (or very low rates of) recolonization from nonharvested source populations, and may provide a lower-quality resource base for the frugivore-granivore vertebrate fauna. I examined the likelihood of midsized to large-bodied bird and mammal populations persisting in Amazonian forest fragments of variable sizes whenever they continue to be harvested by subsistence hunters in the aftermath of isolation. I used data from a comprehensive compilation of game-harvest studies throughout Neotropical forests to estimate the degree to which different species and populations have been overharvested and then calculated the range of minimum forest areas required to maintain a sustainable harvest. The size distribution of 5564 Amazonian forest fragments - estimated from Landsat images of six regions of southern and eastern Brazilian Amazonia - clearly shows that these are predominantly small and rarely exceed 10 ha, suggesting that persistent overhunting is likely to drive most midsized to large vertebrate populations to local extinction in fragmented forest landscapes. Although experimental studies on this negative synergism remain largely unavailable, the prospect that increasingly fragmented Neotropical forest regions can retain their full assemblages of avian and mammalian species is unlikely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1490-1505
Number of pages16
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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