Area, shape and isolation of tropical forest fragments: effects on tree species diversity and implications for conservation


Jennifer L. Hill, School of Geography and Environmental Management, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK.


Aim To quantify the influences of forest area, shape and isolation on tree species diversity in Ghana and to compare their significance with the influences of climate (average annual rainfall) and disturbance (fire burn, logging, agriculture).

Location The forest zone of southern Ghana, West Africa (between 5 and 8° N).

Methods For twenty-two forest fragments (1) bivariate regression analyses of tree species diversity (number and composition) were employed with forest spatial geometry, climate and disturbance variables. (2) Multivariate regression analyses of tree species number and all seven environmental variables were used to determine the variability in tree species number that could be accounted for by these environmental variables.

Results Forest area, shape and isolation accounted for sharply decreasing proportions of variability in tree species diversity. Large forest fragments contained the greatest numbers of tree species and the highest proportions of rare tree species; irregular fragments had high proportions of regenerating, light-demanding pioneers and mature, animal-dispersed species and isolated fragments were floristically similar to less isolated fragments. Fire burn and average annual rainfall accounted for small, but nevertheless significant, proportions of variability in tree species diversity. Logging and agriculture were non-significant variables.

Main conclusions (1) Forest area is the most important consideration when planning tropical forest reserves. (2) Management of disturbance should take priority over management of forest shape if higher levels of tree diversity and species quality are to be maintained. (3) If new reserves are to be designated, they should be located within different climatic zones in order to capture a large fraction of the regional biota. (4) Biogeographers have an important role to play in formulating and testing hypotheses at a broad spatial scale and ultimately, informing conservation management within the tropical biome.