Tropical Tree Community Shifts: Implications for Wildlife Conservation


In tropical forest systems tree community change after initial succession (approximately 50–100 years) is very difficult to detect because of the very slow pace of transformation. Since the mid 1980s, there has been an accumulation of evidence that many forests traditionally considered old growth or mature forests have been disturbed. Using 18 years of data on forest change in Kibale National Park, Uganda, we tested the following hypotheses. Species that frequently recruit only into areas of large-scale disturbance (e.g., conversion to agriculture) (1) have a more strongly negative annualized rate of population change (i.e., recruitment is less than mortality) than trees recruiting into the understory or canopy treefall gaps and (2) these species are declining in their average cumulative diameter at breast height (DBH). Both hypotheses were verified. We then examined relationships between forest change and diets of the five diurnal primates in Kibale. The emergent patterns suggest that forest change will lead to declines in some species, particularly the black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza). We concluded that what was considered mature forest in Kibale has actually been disturbed in the recent past, and we discuss how potential sources of disturbance (dry-periods, elephant population fluctuations, and human disturbance) may affect both forest change and animal populations. We assess how such information might be useful in forest management.



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Biological Conversation



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