Disentangling the environmental heterogeneity, floristic distinctiveness and current threats of tropical dry forests in Colombia
Tropical dry forests (TDFs) have been defined as a single biome occurring mostly in the lowlands where there is a marked period of drought during the year. In the Neotropics, dry forests occur across contrasting biogeographical regions that contain high beta diversity and endemism, but also strong anthropogenic pressures that threaten their biodiversity and ecological integrity. In Colombia, TDFs occur across six regions with contrasting soils, climate, and anthropogenic pressures, therefore being ideal for studying how these variables relate to dry forest species composition, successional stage and conservation status. Here, we explore the variation in climate and soil conditions, floristic composition, forest fragment size and shape, successional stage and anthropogenic pressures in 571 dry forest fragments across Colombia. We found that TDFs should not be classified solely on rainfall seasonality, as high variation in precipitation and temperature were correlated with soil characteristics. In fact, based on environmental factors and floristic composition, the dry forests of Colombia are clustered in three distinctive groups, with high species turnover across and within regions, as reported for other TDF regions of the Neotropics. Widely distributed TDF species were found to be generalists favored by forest disturbance and the early successional stages of dry forests. On the other hand, TDF fragments were not only small in size, but highly irregular in shape in all regions, and comprising mostly early and intermediate successional stages, with very little mature forest left at the national level. At all sites, we detected at least seven anthropogenic disturbances with agriculture, cattle ranching and human infrastructure being the most pressing disturbances throughout the country. Thus, although environmental factors and floristic composition of dry forests vary across regions at the national level, dry forests are equally threatened by deforestation, degradation and anthropogenic pressures all over the country, making TDFs a top priority for conservation in Colombia. © 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.
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