University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Research Seminars > What we can learn from deforestation patterns and historical disturbance effects in tropical rain forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

What we can learn from deforestation patterns and historical disturbance effects in tropical rain forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

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I evaluated (a) how well the forest of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) in Jamaica is being conserved and (b) how previous land use 150 years ago has affected current forest composition.

I investigated an elevation bias within the BJCMNP ; much of the park is at high altitude, but deforestation is mostly confined to low altitudes – thus average deforestation rates for the park are potentially misleading when considering conservation. I found that in 2008, inside the montane zone of the Park (> 1000 m above sea level), only 4 of forest was cleared, while in the lowland zone (< 1000 m asl), the percentage of forest cleared was seven times as high. IUCN Red List data showed that about 71 of threatened tree species in the Blue Mountains grow in the lowland region, 92 % of which are endemic. From these findings, I identify a ‘protected area hotspot zone’, which lies inside the protected area (PA) boundary but below the core high-altitude zone, and which should be instituted in tropical forest PAs that include mountains. The measurement of PA effectiveness within this zone will allow legal protection to be truly assessed, and prevent PAs from gaining credibility due to large remaining inaccessible, high-altitude areas.

The long term impacts of historical land use on tropical forest tree species composition and structure are seldom studied. I used old plantation survey maps of 19th century coffee plantations in the BJCMNP to investigate the effects of land use history on forest tree species composition and structure after 150-170 years of re-growth. I found that old growth forests are still different from forests on adjacent old plantations after 150-170 years of re-growth in having higher endemic species richness and abundance, and in the tree species composition of different trunk diameter size classes. While secondary forests are important for carbon storage and after two-centuries can have similar tree species richness and basal area to old growth forests, the conservation value of old growth is apparent in their higher abundance and richness of endemic tree species.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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