In This Issue
Tropical forest landscapes change rapidly as human populations and economies grow. Understanding and reducing the impact of an ever increasing population is a great challenge facing biologists, conservationists and policy makers. In his article "Tropical forests in a changing environment" (Trends in Ecology & Evolution) Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) staff scientist S. Joseph Wright addresses ongoing change in tropical forests and suggests how these forests might respond to increasing pressure. "The evidence for global effects suggests that a massive reorganization of the structure and dynamics of tropical forests is already underway," states Wright.
Wright also presents estimates of tropical forest cover, deforestation and reforestation, secondary forest succession, spatial variation in land-use change, and poaching and invasive species. He also discusses global effects on lowland tropical forests like the change in its structure and dynamics. For example on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in Panama, the old-growth forest has escaped fire and agriculture for at least 1,500 years. The aboveground biomass was almost constant between 1985 and 2000 in the 50-hectare Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) plot. However, lianas (plants that bridge the forest canopy) are increasing in importance on BCI, trees are reproducing more often in Kibale National Park in Uganda, while tree growth rates are declining at the Las Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica.
According to Wright, "The scientific community has an important role to play as the future of the tropics unfolds." Without the commitment of basic researchers, conservation scientists and other applied researchers, the tropics, supporting over half of all species and over two-thirds of all people, "are unlikely to continue to coexist."
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) has expanded research to evaluate programs beyond its own shade-grown coffee program in an effort to fine-tune the model for global use. SMBC's Stacy Philpott and Peter Bichier traveled to Mexico and Indonesia to study how organic and fair trade sustainable coffee certification programs may be able to protect both biodiversity and financial interests of small farmers. Since almost all of the previous research on the role of coffee in conservation focused on Latin America, this work will provide important insights into the rapidly expanding coffee farms in Asia and their effect on that region's biodiversity.
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has shown that coffee farms with a high diversity and density of shade trees provide important habitat for migratory birds and other biodiversity - findings that lead to the development of the Bird-Friendly© certification to protect such farms. Other certification programs, such as organic and fair-trade coffee focus on eliminating chemical use and offering higher prices to farmers respectively, but little is known about how these programs directly affect biodiversity.
Working in the Chiapas highlands where shade-grown coffee plantations have operated for decades, and in Lampung, Sumatra, the Smithsonian researchers visited 15 coffee growing communities to collect data for the study. The team will evaluate the conservation value of organic, fair-trade, and non-certified farms measured in terms of vegetation characteristics and two indicator species: birds and ants. They will compare the species richness in the different coffee growing areas as well as the forest using all bird and ant species (i.e. migratory and resident birds, ground and arboreal ants) as indicator species. They will thus be able to determine if organic or fair trade certification indirectly benefit biodiversity as well as finding out how many forest specialists each of the coffee habitats protects. In addition, they will be able to compare farms with organic and fair trade certification to see if they live up to the standards of the SMBC's Bird Friendly© coffee program. Interviews carried out with more than 150 small farmers will assess their socioeconomic situations, shade management practices, and the influences of coffee prices on coffee growing lands, and the overall conservation efforts in the regions.
The results of these new studies in Chiapas will provide new insights into coffee certification by evaluating efforts already in progress. In Sumatra, where no research has previously been done, the results will provide important data for coffee certification work as well as improving incomes and contributing to biodiversity conservation efforts.
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Cristol, D.A., and Rodewald, A.D. 2005. Introduction: can golf courses play a role in bird conservation? Wildlife Soc. Bull. 33(2):407-410.
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Fernando, P., Wikramanayake, E., Weerakoon, D., Jayasinghe, L.K.A., Gunawardene, M., and Janaka, H.K. 2005. Perceptions and patterns of human-elephant conflict in old and new settlements in Sri Lanka: insights for mitigation and management. Biodivers. Conserv. 14(10):2465-2481.
Fitzgibbon, W.E., Langlais, M., Marpeau, F., and Morgan, J.J. 2005. Modeling the circulation of a disease between two host populations on non coincident spatial domains. Biol. Invasions 7(5):863-875.
Flinders, C.A., and Magoulick, D.D. 2005. Distribution, habitat use and life history of stream-dwelling crayfish in the Spring River drainage of Arkansas and Missouri with a focus on the imperiled mammoth spring crayfish (Orconectes marchandi). Am. Midl. Nat. 154(2):358-374.
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Martínez-Avalos, J.G., and Jurado, E. 2005. Geographic distribution and conservation of Cactaceae from Tamaulipas Mexico. Biodivers. Conserv. 14(10):2483-2506.
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