The Ecological Consequences of Socioeconomic and Land-Use Changes in Postagriculture Puerto Rico

Grau, H. Ricardo; Aide, T. Mitchell; Zimmerman, Jess K.; Thomlinson, John R.; Helmer, Eileen; Zou, Xioming 2003. The ecological consequences of socioeconomic and land-use changes in post agriculture Puerto Rico. BioScience. Vol. 53, no. 12 (Dec. 2003): Pages 1159-1168.

Contrary to the general trend in the tropics, forests have recovered in Puerto Rico from less than 10% of the landscape in the late 1940s to more than 40% in the present. The recent Puerto Rican history of forest recovery provides the opportunity to study the ecological consequences of economic globalization, reflected in a shift from agriculture to manufacturing and in human migration from rural to urban areas. Forest structure rapidly recovers through secondary succession, reaching mature forest levels of local biodiversity and biomass in approximately 40 years. Despite the rapid structural recovery, the legacy of pre-abandonment land use, including widespread abundance of exotic species and broadscale floristic homogenization, is likely to persist for centuries.

Trends and scenarios of the carbon budget in postagricultural Puerto Rico (1936–2060)

Grau, H. R., T. M. Aide, J. K. Zimmerman, and J. R.
Thomlinson. 2004. Trends and scenarios of the carbon
budget in post-agricultural Puerto Rico (1936–2060). Global
Change Biology 10:1163–1179.

Contrary to the general trend in the tropics, Puerto Rico underwent a process of agriculture abandonment during the second half of the 20th century as a consequence of socioeconomic changes toward urbanization and industrialization. Using data on landuse change, biomass accumulation in secondary forests, and ratios between gross domestic product (GDP) and carbon emissions, we developed a model of the carbon budget for Puerto Rico between 1936 and 2060. As a consequence of land abandonment, forests have expanded rapidly since 1950, achieving the highest sequestration rates between 1980 and 1990. Regardless of future scenarios of demography and land use, sequestration rates will decrease in the future because biomass accumulation decreases with forest age and there is little agricultural land remaining to be abandoned. Due to high per-capita consumption and population density, carbon emissions of Puerto Rico have increased dramatically and exceeded carbon sequestration during the second half of the 20th century. Although Puerto Rico had the highest percent of reforestation for a tropical country, emissions during the period 1950–2000 were approximately 3.5 times higher than sequestration, and current annual emission is almost nine times the rate of sequestration. Additionally, while sequestration will decrease over the next six decades, current socioeconomic trends suggest increasing emissions unless there are significant changes in energy technology or consumption patterns. In conclusion, socioeconomic changes leading to urbanization and industrialization in tropical countries may promote high rates of carbon sequestration during the decades following land abandonment. Initial high rates of carbon sequestration can balance emissions of developing countries with low emission/GDP ratio. In Puerto Rico, the socioeconomic changes that promoted reforestation also promoted high-energy consumption, and resulted in a net increase in carbon emissions.

Fishers’ Knowledge of Marine Species Assemblages: Bridging between Scientific and Local Ecological Knowledge in Southeastern Puerto Rico

García-Quijano, C.G. 2007. Fishers’ knowledge of marine species assemblages:
Bridging between scientific and local ecological knowledge
in southeastern Puerto Rico. American Anthropologist 109, 3, 529-

Increasingly, local ecological knowledge (LEK) held by groups of people engaging directly with their ecosystems for food production is recognized as a valuable tool for understanding environmental change, as well as for ecosystem management and conservation. However, the acceptance of LEK for resource management has been partly hindered by difficulties in translating local knowledge into a form that can be applied directly to Western scientific endeavors. Anthropology’s focus on cultural meaning makes its practitioners uniquely qualified to find common ground between different systems of knowledge. Here, I report the use of ethnographic methods to represent Puerto Rican small-scale fishers’ knowledge about tropical coastal habitat connectivity and the composition of species assemblages by underwater habitats. These two topics are of current interest for tropical fishery science and their study can benefit from fishers’ extensive experience with the coastal environments on which they depend. [Keywords: local ecological knowledge, tropical fisheries, Caribbean, ethnoecology, methods]

A new genus and species of ‘giant hutia’ (Tainotherium valei ) from the Quaternary of Puerto Rico: an extinct arboreal quadruped?

Turvey, S.T., Grady, F.V., Rye, P., 2006. A new genus and species of
‘giant hutia’ (Tainotherium valei) from the Quaternary of Puerto Rico: an extinct arboreal quadruped? Journal of Zoology 270 (4), 585–594.

A large incomplete rodent femur from a Quaternary cave deposit near Barahona, Puerto Rico, is established as the holotype of Tainotherium valei, a new extinct genus and species. Although biogeographic and body size similarities suggest that it may be related to the Puerto Rican giant hutia Elasmodontomys, the Antillean large-bodied rodent family Heptaxodontidae is now interpreted as invalid, and it is impossible to assign Tainotherium to a particular caviomorph family in the absence of associated craniodental material. Tainotherium differs from other West Indian species in possessing a large femoral head, a proximally angled femoral neck, a short greater trochanter and a medially positioned lesser trochanter unconnected by an intertrochanteric crest, and a transversely flattened, anteroposteriorly bowed shaft lacking well-defined ridges. These characters are all associated with arboreal life habits in other mammal groups. The Puerto Rican land mammal fauna was dominated by a rodent radiation occupying a wide variety of niches before human arrival in the West Indies, but although arboreality is correlated with increased likelihood of survival in Quaternary mammalian extinction events, all of this fauna is now extinct. It is unlikely that decreasing aridity and the reduction of Puerto Rican savanna-type environments at the end of the Pleistocene contributed to the extinction of the arboreal Tainotherium, and habitat destruction by pre-Columbian Amerindians may instead have been responsible.

Variation in Susceptibility to Hurricane Damage as a Function of Storm Intensity in Puerto Rican Tree Species

Canham, Charles D.; Thompson, Jill; Zimmerman, Jess K.; Uriarte, Maria. 2010 Variation in Susceptibility to Hurricane Damage as a Function of Storm Intensity in Puerto Rican Tree Species. Biotropica, 42 (1). 87-94. 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00545.x

One of the most significant challenges in developing a predictive understanding of the long-term effects of hurricanes on tropical forests is the development of quantitative models of the relationships between variation in storm intensity and the resulting severity of tree damage and mortality. There have been many comparative studies of interspecific variation in resistance of trees to wind damage based on aggregate responses to individual storms. We use a new approach, based on ordinal logistic regression, to fit quantitative models of the susceptibility of a tree species to different levels of damage across an explicit range of hurricane intensity. Our approach simultaneously estimates both the local intensity of the storm within a plot and the susceptibility to storm damage of different tree species within plots. Using the spatial variation of storm intensity embedded in two hurricanes (Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998) that struck the 16 ha Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot in eastern Puerto Rico, we show that variation in susceptibility to storm damage is an important aspect of life history differentiation. Pioneers such as Cecropia schreberiana are highly susceptible to stem damage, while the late successional species Dacryodes excelsa suffered very little stem damage but significant crown damage. There was a surprisingly weak relationship between tree diameter and the susceptibility to damage for most of the 12 species examined. This may be due to the effects of repeated storms and trade winds on the architecture of trees and forest stands in this Puerto Rican subtropical wet forest.


P. A. Burrowes, R. L. Joglar and D. E. Green, Potential causes for
amphibian declines in Puerto Rico, Herpetologica, 2004, 60, 141–154.

We monitored 11 populations of eight species of Eleutherodactylus in Puerto Rico from 1989 through 2001. We determined relative abundance of active frogs along transects established in the Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque), Carite Forest, San Lorenzo, and in the vicinity of San Juan. Three species (Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti, E. jasperi, and E. eneidae) are presumed to be extinct and eight populations of six different species of endemic Eleutherodactylus are significantly declining at elevations above 400 m. Of the many suspected causes of amphibian declines around the world, we focused on climate change and disease. Temperature and precipitation data from 1970–2000 were analyzed to determine the general pattern of oscillations and deviations that could be correlated with amphibian declines. We examined a total of 106 tissues taken from museum specimens collected from 1961–1978 and from live frogs in 2000. We found chytrid fungi in two species collected at El Yunque as early as 1976, this is the first report of chytrid fungus in the Caribbean. Analysis of weather data indicates a significant warming trend and an association between years with extended periods of drought and the decline of amphibians in Puerto Rico. The 1970’s and 1990’s, which represent the periods of amphibian extirpations and declines, were significantly drier than average. We suggest a possible synergistic interaction between drought and the pathological effect of the chytrid fungus on amphibian populations.

Forests of porto rico past, present, and future and their physical and economic environment

Murphy, L. S. (1916) Forests of Porto Rico—Past, Present, and Future. Washington,
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin
No. 354.

Synthesis: Land Transitions in the Tropics

Uriarte, M., L. Schneider, and T. K. Rudel. 2010b. Synthesis:
land use transitions in the tropics. Biotropica 42:59–62.

Land cover transformations in the tropics are not limited to deforestation; they include other complex transitions such as agricultural and urban expansion, pasture development, and secondary vegetation regrowth. Understanding the causes and extent of these highly variable and complex transitions requires close collaboration between biological, physical, and social scientists. Here we address three critical issues in the study of land transitions: (1) What methodological and socioecological criteria should be used for characterizing land cover categories and transformations? Results from case studies presented here call for the creation of continuous land cover classes that allow for detection of disturbance and human use dynamics and consideration of socioeconomic and biophysical criteria in characterizing and monitoring land transitions. (2) What are the most promising theoretical frameworks? Successful theoretical frameworks must bridge disciplinary boundaries, and encompass multiple spatial, temporal, and political scales. (3) Are regime shifts, constraints, and resilience of land transformations in the tropics predictable? Resilience of land use systems requires a feedback loop between ecological constraints and management decisions. This loop may be broken by policies, migration, and flow of capital from global commodity markets. In addition, land transformations may lead to novel interactions between land-use and natural disturbance leading to unpredictable regime shifts in ecosystems. Planning for sustainable patterns of land use requires some understanding of these regime transformations.

Forest Regeneration in a chronosequence of tropical abandoned pastures: implications for restoration ecology

Forest Regeneration in a chronosequence of tropical abandoned pastures: implications for restoration ecology

During the mid-1900s, most of the island of Puerto Rico was deforested, but a shift in the economy from agriculture to small industry beginning in the 1950s resulted in the abandonment of agricultural lands and recovery of secondary forest. This unique history provides an excellent opportunity to study secondary forest succession and suggest strategies for tropical forest restoration. To determine the pattern of secondary succession, we describe the woody vegetation in 71 abandoned pastures and forest sites in four regions of Puerto Rico. The density, basal area, aboveground biomass, and species richness of the secondary forest sites were similar to those of the old growth forest sites (>80 yr) after approximately 40 years. The dominant species that colonized recently abandoned pastures occurred over a broad elevational range and are widespread in the neotropics. The species richness of Puerto Rican secondary forests recovered rapidly, but the species composition was quite different in comparison with old growth forest sites, suggesting that enrichment planting will be necessary to restore the original composition. Exotic species were some of the most abundant species in the secondary forest, but their long-term impact depended on life history characteristics of each species. These data demonstrate that one restoration strategy for tropical forest in abandoned pastures is simply to protect the areas from fire, and allow natural regeneration to produce secondary forest. This strategy will be most effective if remnant forest (i.e., seed sources) still exist in the landscape and soils have not been highly degraded. Patterns of forest recovery also suggest strategies for accelerating natural recovery by planting a suite of generalist species that are common in recently abandoned pastures in Puerto Rico and throughout much of the neotropics.

Impact of experimental drought on greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient availability in a humid tropical forest

We excluded throughfall from humid tropical forests in Puerto Rico for a period of three months to determine how drought affects greenhouse gas emissions from tropical forest soils. We established five 1.24 m2 throughfall exclusion and five control plots of equal size in three sites located on ridges, slopes, and an upland valley dominated by palms (total of 30 plots). We measured weekly changes in carbon dioxide (CO2) and bi-weekly changes in nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) in response to manipulation. We additionally measured the effects of throughfall exclusion on soil temperature and moisture, nutrient availability, and pH. Rainout shelters significantly reduced throughfall by 22 to 32 % and decreased soil moisture by 16 to 36% (top 10 cm). Rates of CO2 emissions decreased significantly in the ridge and slope sites (30%, 28%, respectively), but not the palm during the experimental drought. In contrast, the palm site became a significantly stronger sink for CH4 in response to drying (480% decline relative to controls), while CH4 fluxes in the ridge and slope sites did not respond to drought. Both the palm and ridge site became a sink for N2O in response to drought and the slope site followed a similar trend. Soil pH and available P decreased significantly in response to soil drying; however, available N was not affected. Variability in the response of greenhouse gas emissions to drought among the three sites highlights the complexity of biogeochemical cycling in tropical forested ecosystems, as well as the need for research that incorporates the high degree of spatial heterogeneity in experimental designs. Our results show that humid tropical forests are sensitive to climate change and that short-term declines in rainfall could result in a negative feedback to climate change via lowered greenhouse gas emissions and increased greenhouse gas consumption by soils.
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