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Anthropogenic change in subtropical dry forest during a century of settlement in Jaiquí Picado, Santiago Province, Dominican Republic

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Abstract:

Summary

AimThe dry forests of the tropics have received little scholarly attention relative to their significance and their rate of disappearance. This study aimed to characterize the structure and composition of two intermingled Antillean subtropical dry forest types and shed light upon their origins, development, and possible future conditions.

LocationJaiquí Picado, Santiago Province, Dominican Republic (19° 26′ N, 70° 54′ W).

MethodsBiophysical data from quadrat sampling of vegetation, soils, and site characteristics were subjected to cluster analysis, means comparisons, discriminant analysis, and linear regression. Extensive interviews with local land users provided information on early forests as well as present and historical land use practices.

ResultsSpatial patterning of the area's two main forest types relates closely to past land use but not to any observed differences in the physical characteristics of their sites. ‘Old-growth’ stands found on land never placed in cultivation resemble the forests encountered by late-nineteenth-century settlers of the area in their wealth of woody plant taxa and relative abundance of endemic and other native species. In the ‘scrub’ stands growing on land abandoned from grazing, fully 70% of stems belong to one native (Acacia macracantha Willd.) and two exotic (Haematoxylon campechianum L. and Prosopis juliflora (Sw.) DC.) woody legumes that contribute to the markedly greater representation of deciduous and thorn-bearing individuals in this type. The two forest types do not differ significantly in average bole dimensions, but the canopies of scrub stands are concentrated in a narrower layer, their understories are more open, and they contain more multiple stems of apparent sprout origin. A chronosequence of scrub stands covering a range in age of three decades indicates a moderate increment in species diversity over time and gradual disappearance of some of the more abundant invasive shrubs; but such stands continue to be dominated throughout this period by the same three scrub trees, while most species characteristic of old-growth forests, including many of the least abundant, fail to appear among the regeneration in their understories.

Main conclusionsAntillean forests classified as thorn scrub may include a form of ‘disclimax’ created through past land use activities in areas once bearing more diverse tropical dry forest. Whether they will ever develop into stands similar to the previous forests is uncertain, given the present state of fragmentation and other processes taking place within these ecosystems.
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