Protected Area Safeguard Tree and Shrub Communities from Degradation and Invasion: A Case Study in Eastern Madagascar
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- Brown, K.A., Carter Ingram, J., Flynn, D.F.B. et al. Environmental Management (2009) 44: 136. doi:10.1007/s00267-008-9257-5
Despite their prevalence in both developed and developing countries, there have been surprisingly few field assessments of the ecological effectiveness of protected areas. This study aimed to assess the effectiveness of a key protected area in eastern Madagascar, Ranomafana National Park (RNP). We established paired 100 × 4-m vegetation transects (400 m2) within RNP and in remnant forests in the park’s peripheral zone. In each 400-m2 plot, all woody stems >1.5 cm in diameter at breast height were measured and identified to species. All species were also identified as native or non-native. We identified utilitarian species within all transects and they were sorted into use category. We calculated plot-level taxonomic biodiversity and functional diversity of utilitarian species; the latter was calculated by clustering the multivariate distances between species based on their utilitarian traits, and all metrics were tested using paired t-tests. Our results showed that there was significantly higher biodiversity inside RNP than in remnant forests and this pattern was consistent across all diversity metrics examined. Forests not located within the park’s boundary had significantly higher non-native species than within RNP. There was no statistically significant difference in functional diversity of utilitarian species inside RNP vs. remnant forests; however, the overall trend was toward higher diversity inside park boundaries. These findings suggested that RNP has been effective at maintaining taxonomic diversity relative to surrounding unprotected areas and restricting the spread of non-native plants. The results also suggested that low functional redundancy of forests outside of RNP might be of concern, because residents in surrounding villages may have few other substitutes for the services provided by species that are of critical importance to their livelihoods. This study highlights the challenges of trying to reconcile biodiversity conservation with human use of natural resources in economically poor, remote areas.