Conservation of forest biodiversity and ecosystem properties in a pastoral landscape of the Ecuadorian Andes
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- MacLaren, C., Buckley, H.L. & Hale, R.J. Agroforest Syst (2014) 88: 369. doi:10.1007/s10457-014-9690-9
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High Andean cloud forests are home to a diversity of unique wildlife and are important providers of ecosystem services to people in the Andean regions. The extent of these cloud forests has been widely reduced through conversion to pasture for livestock, which threatens the forests’ ability to support biodiversity and provide ecosystem services. This paper explores whether impacts on woody plant biodiversity and four ecosystem properties (woody plant species richness, juvenile timber tree abundance, soil organic matter content and soil moisture) from converting forest to pasture can be mitigated if some woody forest vegetation is maintained within pastures. Woody vegetation in pastures was found to conserve those woody plant species that are more tolerant to exposure and grazing, but conservation of the high montane cloud forest community required areas of forest from which livestock were restricted. The sampled sites clustered according to woody plant species cover; these clusters represented a gradient from pasture with patches of shrubs to mature forest. Clusters differed in both woody plant species richness and number of juvenile timber trees whereas soil organic matter and soil moisture were observed to be similar among all clusters. This suggests that the different habitats may have some equivalent ecosystem properties. We conclude that the presence of woody vegetation in pastures may reduce some of the impacts of converting forest to pasture, but should not be considered a substitute for protecting large areas of forest, which are essential for maintaining woody plant species diversity in high Andean cloud forest.