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Special section: Habitat fragmentation can amplify

ts can also be more susceptible to fire. A study of fire in the Brazilian Amazon found that more than 90% of burned forest was within a third of an edge. Once burned, many fragments are likely to burn again within a decade or two. The estimated historical fire interval is at least 100 years, and tropical trees cannot withstand more frequent fires because their bark is too thin.

--Amazon forest fragments are also more susceptible to damage from El Nino-Southern Oscillation droughts. During the 1997 drought, trees near fragment edges were 50% more likely to die than trees in the interior. These fragments are already particularly vulnerable to fire because they have dry edges and often adjoin cattle pastures, which are burned regularly. Moreover, global warming could make Amazon forest fragments even more vulnerable to fire by exacerbating the periodic droughts. This work is by William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, and Bruce Williamson of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

This small but compelling body of research shows that other environmental stresses can amplify the effects of fragmentation. However, most habitat fragmentation studies fail to take other environmental changes into account, simply focussing on the fact that fragments are small and isolated. "The current fragmentation paradigm...is dangerously inadequate for conservation purposes," say Laurance and Cochrane.


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Contact: William Laurance
laurancew@tivoli.si.edu
507-629-7310
Society for Conservation Biology
30-Nov-2001


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