Temporal decay in timber species composition and value in Amazonian logging concessions

Vanessa A. Richardson, Carlos A. Peres

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Throughout human history, slow-renewal biological resource populations have been predictably overexploited, often to the point of economic extinction. We assess whether and how this has occurred with timber resources in the Brazilian Amazon. The asynchronous advance of industrial-scale logging frontiers has left regional-scale forest landscapes with varying histories of logging. Initial harvests in unlogged forests can be highly selective, targeting slow-growing, high-grade, shade-tolerant hardwood species, while later harvests tend to focus on fast-growing, light-wooded, long-lived pioneer trees. Brazil accounts for 85% of all native neotropical forest roundlog production, and the State of Pará for almost half of all timber production in Brazilian Amazonia, the largest old-growth tropical timber reserve controlled by any country. Yet the degree to which timber harvests beyond the first-cut can be financially profitable or demographically sustainable remains poorly understood. Here, we use data on legally planned logging of ~17.3 million cubic meters of timber across 314 species extracted from 824 authorized harvest areas in private and community-owned forests, 446 of which reported volumetric composition data by timber species. We document patterns of timber extraction by volume, species composition, and monetary value along aging eastern Amazonian logging frontiers, which are then explained on the basis of historical and environmental variables. Generalized linear models indicate that relatively recent logging operations farthest from heavy-traffic roads are the most selective, concentrating gross revenues on few high-value species. We find no evidence that the post-logging timber species composition and total value of forest stands recovers beyond the first-cut, suggesting that the commercially most valuable timber species become predictably rare or economically extinct in old logging frontiers. In avoiding even more destructive land-use patterns, managing yields of selectively-logged forests is crucial for the long-term integrity of forest biodiversity and financial viability of local industries. The logging history of eastern Amazonian old-growth forests likely mirrors unsustainable patterns of timber depletion over time in Brazil and other tropical countries.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0159035
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2016

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