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Landscape Ecology

, Volume 17, Issue 7, pp 601–615 | Cite as

Can we manage tropical landscapes? – an answer from the Caribbean perspective

  • Ariel E. Lugo
Article

Abstract

Humans have used Caribbean island landscapes for millennia. Theconversion of wild lands to built-up lands or to agricultural lands in thesetropical countries follows predictable patterns. Conversion of moist forestlifezones and fertile flatlands is faster than conversion of wet and rain forestlife zones and low fertility steep lands. In Puerto Rico, these trends areleading to increased built-up areas, environmental surprises, and increaseddependence on external subsidies. Changes over the past 50 yr alsoinclude a reversal in deforestation and increase in forest patch size in spiteof increasing human population density. Present forests have different speciescomposition than the original ones but are indistinguishable in physiognomy andbasic function. The reversal of deforestation and forest fragmentation trends,if accompanied by an understanding of the forces that cause the reversal, canresult in the development of tools for landscape management. Tropical landscapemanagement requires understanding and application of natural resiliencemechanisms of ecosystems, greater use of ecological engineering approaches toinfrastructure development, enforcement of zoning laws, enlightened economicdevelopment policies, and an understanding and agreement of a conservationvision among all sectors of society. Mixing species in new combinations to formnew ecosystems is a necessary step in the development of future landscapes.“Landscapes have always changed over time, but we sense,somewhat uneasily, that the processes now at work are more powerfully focusedand possibly irreversible.”“Our present assumption is that generally tropical lands aremuch more sensitive and less resilient than those in the temperatezones.”“...the long-term world trend in land uses is a cascadingloss in capacity (i.e., degradation) in every broad category of landuse.” J.F. Richards 1990, p 176 and 177.

Biodiversity Caribbean islands Deforestation Development Fragmentation Puerto Rico Reforestation Secondary forests Tropical forests Tropical landscapes 

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ariel E. Lugo
    • 1
  1. 1.USDA Forest ServiceInternational Institute of Tropical ForestryRío PiedrasPuerto Rico

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