, Volume 201, Issue 1, pp 101-113
Date: 05 Sep 2008

Relationships between spatial configuration of tropical forest patches and woody plant diversity in northeastern Puerto Rico

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Abstract

The destruction and fragmentation of tropical forests are major sources of global biodiversity loss. A better understanding of anthropogenically altered landscapes and their relationships with species diversity and composition is needed in order to protect biodiversity in these environments. The spatial patterns of a landscape may control the ecological processes that shape species diversity and composition. However, there is little information about how plant diversity varies with the spatial configuration of forest patches especially in fragmented tropical habitats. The northeastern part of Puerto Rico provides the opportunity to study the relationships between species richness and composition of woody plants (shrubs and trees) and spatial variables [i.e., patch area and shape, patch isolation, connectivity, and distance to the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF)] in tropical forest patches that have regenerated from pasturelands. The spatial data were obtained from aerial color photographs from year 2000. Each photo interpretation was digitized into a GIS package, and 12 forest patches (24–34 years old) were selected within a study area of 28 km2. The woody plant species composition of the patches was determined by a systematic floristic survey. The species diversity (Shannon index) and species richness of woody plants correlated positively with the area and the shape of the forest patch. Larger patches, and patches with more habitat edge or convolution, provided conditions for a higher diversity of woody plants. Moreover, the distance of the forest patches to the LEF, which is a source of propagules, correlated negatively with species richness. Plant species composition was also related to patch size and shape and distance to the LEF. These results indicate that there is a link between landscape structure and species diversity and composition and that patches that have similar area, shape, and distance to the LEF provide similar conditions for the existence of a particular plant community. In addition, forest patches that were closer together had more similarity in woody plant species composition than patches that were farther apart, suggesting that seed dispersal for some species is limited at the scale of 10 km.