Ecology and conservation of fragmented tropical forests

Panama City, Panama-Today the world's tropical forests are not only being cleared at an extraordinary rate, they are also increasingly being divided into fragments that can rapidly lose their original rich biodiversity. At the 2002 meetings of the Association for Tropical Biology, hosted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Panama, this conservation crisis was addressed in a symposium bringing together concerned investigators from throughout the tropics.

Organized by William Laurance of STRI and Pierre-Michel Forget of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, the session included 24 presentations that examined the causes, scope, and consequences of fragmentation in studies from 12 countries on five continents. The range of organisms included was equally broad, extending from mosses to forest trees, and from dung beetles to lemurs. The following are a sampling of the results reported at the meeting.

Tom Lovejoy, of H. John Heinz Center for Science, who initiated the first large scale experimental studies of tropical forest fragmentation in the Brazilian Amazon, the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments (BDFF) Project, presented an overview of what has been learned so far and suggested directions for the future. He pointed out that although species declines small fragments may be rapid, larger fragments of 100 hectares or more retain their diversity much longer, enabling us to take steps towards restoration before losses become irreversible.

William Laurance described the rapid changes in forest composition that take place in small forest fragments, based on data collected by the BDFF over the past 22 years. These changes are driven by greatly accelerated tree mortality near forest edges, causing species typical of old growth to decline and disturbance-tolerant species to increase. As a result, the composition of different fragments becomes more similar over time, causing a loss of tree diversity in the fragments taken as a w

Contact: William F. Laurance
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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