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New Ceroxylon paper from IRD and PUCE

How anthropogenic disturbances affect the resilience of a keystone palm tree in the threatened Andean cloud forest?

Fabien Anthelme (a,b), Juan Lincango (b), Charlotte Gully (a,b), Nina Duarte (b), Rommel Montúfar (b)

a) Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), UMR DIAPC, 911 Avenue Agropolis, BP 64501, 34394 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
b) Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), Av 12 de Octubre y Roca, Quito, Ecuador


To conserve tropical forests, it is crucial to characterise the disturbance threshold beyond which populations of tropical trees are no longer resilient. This approach is still not widely employed, especially with respect to the effects of moderate disturbances. Compensation effects, such as positive interactions among plants, are addressed even more rarely. We attempt to identify the extents to which the distribution of the keystone palm tree Ceroxylon echinulatum is regulated by various regimes of deforestation in a threatened tropical montane cloud forest in the North-West Andes of Ecuador. The demographic structure of this palm tree was examined in three habitats: old-growth forest, forest disturbed by selective logging, and deforested pasture. Patterns were related to stand structure, microclimate, and soil composition. Seedling desiccation owing to severe aboveground water stress led to the absence of juvenile palms in pastures, and thus was predictive of a near extinction of the species in this habitat. However, shade provided by dominant bunchgrass in pastures considerably reduced above- and belowground water stress by diminishing light intensity. Selective logging resulted in a higher density of individuals in disturbed forests than in old-growth forests, but was associated with a spoiled spatial structure. Therefore, the protection of residual old-growth forests is a prerequisite for the conservation of C. echinulatum, although secondary forests might act as provisional refuges that promote its resilience. The reduction of water stress by nurse grasses in pastures represents a promising approach to promote the resilience of tropical tree species and their associated communities after deforestation.

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