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Concept: Forest


Brachycephalus (Anura: Brachycephalidae) is a remarkable genus of miniaturized frogs of the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. Many of its species are highly endemic to cloud forests, being found only on one or a few mountaintops. Such level of microendemism might be caused by their climatic tolerance to a narrow set of environmental conditions found only in montane regions. This restriction severely limits the chance of discovery of new species, given the difficulty of exploring these inaccessible habitats. Following extensive fieldwork in montane areas of the southern portion of the Atlantic Rainforest, in this study we describe seven new species of Brachycephalus from the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina, southern Brazil. These species can be distinguished from one another based on coloration and the level of rugosity of the skin in different parts of their body. These discoveries increase considerably the number of described species of Brachycephalus in southern Brazil.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Atlantic Ocean, Forest, Brazil, Montane, Florianópolis, German Brazilian, Joinville


New plantations can either cause deforestation by replacing natural forests or avoid this by using previously cleared areas. The extent of these two situations is contested in tropical biodiversity hotspots where objective data are limited. Here, we explore delays between deforestation and the establishment of industrial tree plantations on Borneo using satellite imagery. Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo’s old-growth forest were cleared (14.4 Mha and 4.2 Mha in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo). Industrial plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm; 1.3 Mha pulpwood). Approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2 Mha) were old-growth forest in 1973, of which 4.5-4.8 Mha (24-26% of Borneo-wide deforestation) were planted within five years of forest clearance (3.7-3.9 Mha oil-palm; 0.8-0.9 Mha pulpwood). This rapid within-five-year conversion has been greater in Malaysia than in Indonesia (57-60% versus 15-16%). In Indonesia, a higher proportion of oil-palm plantations was developed on already cleared degraded lands (a legacy of recurrent forest fires). However, rapid conversion of Indonesian forests to industrial plantations has increased steeply since 2005. We conclude that plantation industries have been the principle driver of deforestation in Malaysian Borneo over the last four decades. In contrast, their role in deforestation in Indonesian Borneo was less marked, but has been growing recently. We note caveats in interpreting these results and highlight the need for greater accountability in plantation development.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Forestry, Forest, Borneo, Malaysia, Malay language


An intact forest landscape (IFL) is a seamless mosaic of forest and naturally treeless ecosystems with no remotely detected signs of human activity and a minimum area of 500 km(2). IFLs are critical for stabilizing terrestrial carbon storage, harboring biodiversity, regulating hydrological regimes, and providing other ecosystem functions. Although the remaining IFLs comprise only 20% of tropical forest area, they account for 40% of the total aboveground tropical forest carbon. We show that global IFL extent has been reduced by 7.2% since the year 2000. An increasing rate of global IFL area reduction was found, largely driven by the tripling of IFL tropical forest loss in 2011-2013 compared to that in 2001-2003. Industrial logging, agricultural expansion, fire, and mining/resource extraction were the primary causes of IFL area reduction. Protected areas (International Union for Conservation of Nature categories I to III) were found to have a positive effect in slowing the reduction of IFL area from timber harvesting but were less effective in limiting agricultural expansion. The certification of logging concessions under responsible management had a negligible impact on slowing IFL fragmentation in the Congo Basin. Fragmentation of IFLs by logging and establishment of roads and other infrastructure initiates a cascade of changes that lead to landscape transformation and loss of conservation values. Given that only 12% of the global IFL area is protected, our results illustrate the need for planning and investment in carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation efforts that target the most valuable remaining forests, as identified using the IFL approach.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Ecosystem, Forest, Wilderness, Forests, Intact forest landscape


Amazon forests, which store ∼50% of tropical forest carbon and play a vital role in global water, energy, and carbon cycling, are predicted to experience both longer and more intense dry seasons by the end of the 21st century. However, the climate sensitivity of this ecosystem remains uncertain: several studies have predicted large-scale die-back of the Amazon, whereas several more recent studies predict that the biome will remain largely intact. Combining remote-sensing and ground-based observations with a size- and age-structured terrestrial ecosystem model, we explore the sensitivity and ecological resilience of these forests to changes in climate. We demonstrate that water stress operating at the scale of individual plants, combined with spatial variation in soil texture, explains observed patterns of variation in ecosystem biomass, composition, and dynamics across the region, and strongly influences the ecosystem’s resilience to changes in dry season length. Specifically, our analysis suggests that in contrast to existing predictions of either stability or catastrophic biomass loss, the Amazon forest’s response to a drying regional climate is likely to be an immediate, graded, heterogeneous transition from high-biomass moist forests to transitional dry forests and woody savannah-like states. Fire, logging, and other anthropogenic disturbances may, however, exacerbate these climate change-induced ecosystem transitions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Functional redundancy has been debated largely in ecology and conservation, yet we lack detailed empirical studies on the roles of functionally similar species in ecosystem function. Large bodied frugivores may disperse similar plant species and have strong impact on plant recruitment in tropical forests. The two largest frugivores in the neotropics, tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) and muriquis (Brachyteles arachnoides) are potential candidates for functional redundancy on seed dispersal effectiveness. Here we provide a comparison of the quantitative, qualitative and spatial effects on seed dispersal by these megafrugivores in a continuous Brazilian Atlantic forest.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Biogeography, Great American Interchange, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Community compensatory trend (CCT) is thought to facilitate persistence of rare species and thus stabilize species composition in tropical forests. However, whether CCT acts over broad geographical ranges is still in question. In this study, we tested for the presence of negative density dependence (NDD) and CCT in three forests along a tropical-temperate gradient. Inventory data were collected from forest communities located in three different latitudinal zones in China. Two widely used methods were used to test for NDD at the community level. The first method considered relationships between the relative abundance ratio and adult abundance. The second method emphasized the effect of adult abundance on abundance of established younger trees. Evidence for NDD acting on different growth forms was tested by using the first method, and the presence of CCT was tested by checking whether adult abundance of rare species affected that of established younger trees less than did abundance of common species. Both analyses indicated that NDD existed in seedling, sapling and pole stages in all three plant communities and that this effect increased with latitude. However, the extent of NDD varied among understory, midstory and canopy trees in the three communities along the gradient. Additionally, despite evidence of NDD for almost all common species, only a portion of rare species showed NDD, supporting the action of CCT in all three communities. So, we conclude that NDD and CCT prevail in the three recruitment stages of the tree communities studied; rare species achieve relative advantage through CCT and thus persist in these communities; CCT clearly facilitates newly established species and maintains tree diversity within communities across our latitudinal gradient.

Concepts: Plant, Forest, Tree, Plant morphology, Rainforest, Trees, Rare species, Common species


8000 years ago, prior to Neolithic agriculture, Europe was mostly a wooded continent. Since then, its forest cover has been progressively fragmented, so that today it covers less than half of Europe’s land area, in many cases having been cleared to make way for fields and pasture-land. Establishing the origin of Europe’s current, more open land-cover mosaic requires a long-term perspective, for which pollen analysis offers a key tool. In this study we utilise and compare three numerical approaches to transforming pollen data into past forest cover, drawing on >1000 14C-dated site records. All reconstructions highlight the different histories of the mixed temperate and the northern boreal forests, with the former declining progressively since ~6000 years ago, linked to forest clearance for agriculture in later prehistory (especially in northwest Europe) and early historic times (e.g. in north central Europe). In contrast, extensive human impact on the needle-leaf forests of northern Europe only becomes detectable in the last two millennia and has left a larger area of forest in place. Forest loss has been a dominant feature of Europe’s landscape ecology in the second half of the current interglacial, with consequences for carbon cycling, ecosystem functioning and biodiversity.

Concepts: Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Europe, Germany, Western Europe, Central Europe, Landscape


In winter, foraging activity is intended to optimize food search while minimizing both thermoregulation costs and predation risk. Here we quantify the relative importance of thermoregulation and predation in foraging patch selection of woodland birds wintering in a Mediterranean montane forest. Specifically, we account for thermoregulation benefits related to temperature, and predation risk associated with both illumination of the feeding patch and distance to the nearest refuge provided by vegetation. We measured the amount of time that 38 marked individual birds belonging to five small passerine species spent foraging at artificial feeders. Feeders were located in forest patches that vary in distance to protective cover and exposure to sun radiation; temperature and illumination were registered locally by data loggers. Our results support the influence of both thermoregulation benefits and predation costs on feeding patch choice. The influence of distance to refuge (negative relationship) was nearly three times higher than that of temperature (positive relationship) in determining total foraging time spent at a patch. Light intensity had a negligible and no significant effect. This pattern was generalizable among species and individuals within species, and highlights the preponderance of latent predation risk over thermoregulation benefits on foraging decisions of birds wintering in temperate Mediterranean forests.

Concepts: Light, Sun, Bird, Forest, Woodland, Winter, Savanna


Large-diameter trees dominate the structure, dynamics and function of many temperate and tropical forests. However, their attendant contributions to forest heterogeneity are rarely addressed. We established the Wind River Forest Dynamics Plot, a 25.6 ha permanent plot within which we tagged and mapped all 30,973 woody stems ≥1 cm dbh, all 1,966 snags ≥10 cm dbh, and all shrub patches ≥2 m(2). Basal area of the 26 woody species was 62.18 m(2)/ha, of which 61.60 m(2)/ha was trees and 0.58 m(2)/ha was tall shrubs. Large-diameter trees (≥100 cm dbh) comprised 1.5% of stems, 31.8% of basal area, and 17.6% of the heterogeneity of basal area, with basal area dominated by Tsuga heterophylla and Pseudotsuga menziesii. Small-diameter subpopulations of Pseudotsuga menziesii, Tsuga heterophylla and Thuja plicata, as well as all tree species combined, exhibited significant aggregation relative to the null model of complete spatial randomness (CSR) up to 9 m (P≤0.001). Patterns of large-diameter trees were either not different from CSR (Tsuga heterophylla), or exhibited slight aggregation (Pseudotsuga menziesii and Thuja plicata). Significant spatial repulsion between large-diameter and small-diameter Tsuga heterophylla suggests that large-diameter Tsuga heterophylla function as organizers of tree demography over decadal timescales through competitive interactions. Comparison among two forest dynamics plots suggests that forest structural diversity responds to intermediate-scale environmental heterogeneity and disturbances, similar to hypotheses about patterns of species richness, and richness- ecosystem function. Large mapped plots with detailed within-plot environmental spatial covariates will be required to test these hypotheses.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Forest, Tree, Shrub, Douglas-fir, Null hypothesis, Thuja plicata, Tsuga heterophylla


Several reviews have analyzed the factors that affect the change in soil organic C (SOC) when forest is converted to agricultural land; however, the effects of forest type and cultivation stage on these changes have generally been overlooked. We collated observations from 453 paired or chronosequential sites where forests have been converted to agricultural land and then assessed the effects of forest type, cultivation stage, climate factors, and soil properties on the change in the SOC stock and the SOC turnover rate constant (k). The percent decrease in SOC stocks and the turnover rate constants both varied significantly according to forest type and cultivation stage. The largest decrease in SOC stocks was observed in temperate regions (52% decrease), followed by tropical regions (41% decrease) and boreal regions (31% decrease). Climate and soil factors affected the decrease in SOC stocks. The SOC turnover rate constant after the conversion of forests to agricultural land increased with the mean annual precipitation and temperature. To our knowledge, this is the first time that original forest type was considered when evaluating changes in SOC after being converted to agricultural land. The differences between forest types should be considered when calculating global changes in SOC stocks.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Soil, Affect, Ecosystem, Forest, Köppen climate classification, Arable land