, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 37-68

Remnant trees and the conservation of biodiversity in Costa Rican pastures

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Abstract

Remnant trees may play an important role in conserving biodiversity within agricultural systems because they provide habitats and resources that are otherwise absent from agricultural landscapes. In order to determine the potential importance of remnant trees for conservation, we surveyed the density and species composition of remnant trees occurring in pastures of 24 dairy farms near Monteverde, Costa Rica. In addition, we conducted interviews with farmers to determine why they leave trees in pastures and how they manage them. In our survey of 237 ha of pastures, we counted 5583 trees of 190 species (mean density of 25 trees/ha). Primary forest trees accounted for 57% of all of the species and 33% of tree individuals. Over 90% of the species are known to provide food for forest birds and other animals. In addition, many of the species are important locally for humans as sources of timber (37%), firewood (36%) or fence posts (20%). Farmers mentioned 19 reasons for leaving trees in pastures. Of these, shade for cattle, timber, fruits for birds and fence posts were most commonly cited. Most farmers were well aware of both the economic and ecological benefits of pasture trees, and were interested in the possibility of increasing tree cover within their pastures. Although the current densities and richness of pasture trees in Monteverde are high, the size distribution indicates that diversity will decrease substantially in future years, both because farmers are harvesting trees and because saplings of primary forest trees are scarce within the pastures.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.