, Volume 147, Issue 1, pp 37-47

Diversity, composition, and structure of tropical dry forests in Central America

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Abstract

Tropical dry forests have been reduced to less than 0.1% of their original expanse on the Pacific side of Central America and are considered by some to be the most endangered ecosystem in the lowland tropics. Plots 1000 m2 were established in seven tropical dry forests in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in order to compare levels of species richness to other Neotropical dry forest sites and to identify environmental variables associated with species richness and abundance. A total of 204 species and 1484 individuals ≥ 2.5 cm were encountered. Santa Rosa National Park was the richest site with the highest family (33), genera (69), and species (75) diversity of all sites. Species richness and forest structure were significantly different between sites. Fabaceae was the dominant tree and shrub family at most sites, but no species was repeatably dominant based on number of stems in all fragments of tropical dry forest. Central American dry forests had similar species richness when compared to other Neotropical forests. There was no correlation between forest cover within reserves, or precipitation and plant species richness. There was a significant correlation between anthropogenic disturbance (intensity and frequency of fire, wood collection, grazing) and total species richness, tree and shrub species richness, and liana abundance. These results suggest controlling levels on anthropogenic disturbance within reserves should be a high priority for resource managers in Central America. Further research in forest fragments which examine individual and a combination of disturbance agents would help clarify the importance of anthropogenic disturbance on species richness and abundance.