Seeing the wood despite the trees: Exploring human disturbance impact on plant diversity, community structure, and standing biomass in fragmented high Andean forests

Mariasole Calbi, Francisco Fajardo-Gutiérrez, Juan Manuel Posada, Robert Lücking, Grischa Brokamp, Thomas Borsch

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High Andean forests harbor a remarkably high biodiversity and play a key role in providing vital ecosystem services for neighboring cities and settlements. However, they are among the most fragmented and threatened ecosystems in the neotropics. To preserve their unique biodiversity, a deeper understanding of the effects of anthropogenic perturbations on them is urgently needed. Here, we characterized the plant communities of high Andean forest remnants in the hinterland of Bogotá in 32 0.04 ha plots. We assessed the woody vegetation and sampled the understory and epiphytic cover. We gathered data on compositional and structural parameters and compiled a broad array of variables related to anthropogenic disturbance, ranging from local to landscape-wide metrics. We also assessed phylogenetic diversity and functional diversity. We employed nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) to select meaningful variables in a first step of the analysis. Then, we performed partial redundancy analysis (pRDA) and generalized linear models (GLMs) in order to test how selected environmental and anthropogenic variables are affecting the composition, diversity, and aboveground biomass of these forests. Identified woody vegetation and understory layer communities were characterized by differences in elevation, temperature, and relative humidity, but were also related to different levels of human influence. We found that the increase of human-related disturbance resulted in less phylogenetic diversity and in the phylogenetic clustering of the woody vegetation and in lower aboveground biomass (AGB) values. As to the understory, disturbance was associated with a higher diversity, jointly with a higher phylogenetic dispersion. The most relevant disturbance predictors identified here were as follows: edge effect, proximity of cattle, minimum fragment age, and median patch size. Interestingly, AGB was efficiently predicted by the proportion of late successional species. We therefore recommend the use of AGB and abundance of late successional species as indicators of human disturbance on high Andean forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2110-2172
Number of pages63
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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