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Landscape Structural Complexity of High-Mountain Polylepis australis Forests: A New Aspect of Restoration Goals

Authors

  • Daniel Renison,

    Corresponding author
    1. Cátedra de Ecología (FCEFyN, UNC-CONICET), Av. Velez Sarsfield 299, X5000JJC Córdoba, Argentina
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  • Isabell Hensen,

    1. Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Am Kirchtor 1, D-06108 Halle/Saale, Germany
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  • Ricardo Suarez

    1. Proyecto Conservación y Reforestación de las Sierras de Córdoba, Ortiz de Ocampo 741 Barrio Parque Río Caballos, Ciudad de Río Ceballos, Provincia de Córdoba, Argentina
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D. Renison, email darenison@yahoo.com.ar or drenison@com.uncor.edu

Abstract

Forest restoration efforts should aim at creating landscapes with a balanced array of forest stands at varying successional stages, thus providing habitat for a wealth of species and multiple ecosystem services. In most high-mountain ecosystems of South America, long-term livestock rearing activities that include fires, browsing, and trampling have delayed or stopped forest succession resulting in simplified landscapes. To determine appropriate restoration goals for Polylepis australis mountain forests of Central Argentina, we established 146 plots of 900 m2 plots throughout five river basins with different historic livestock stocking rates. In each plot, we measured tree heights, canopy cover, estimated age of oldest tree, volume of standing and fallen dead wood, fern cover, and abundance of shade tolerant Maytenus boaria trees. K-means cluster analysis using tree heights and canopy cover as classificatory variables yielded four biologically meaningful clusters. Clusters 1, 2, 3, and 4 comprising 68, 10, 13, and 9% of the plots, respectively, showed increasing amounts of standing and fallen dead wood, fern cover, and abundance of shade tolerant M. boaria trees. Plots in clusters 1 and 2 were proportionally more abundant in basins with high human impact and at the altitudinal extremes of P. australis distribution, whereas plots in clusters 3 and 4 were relatively more abundant in well-preserved basins and at the optimum of their altitudinal distribution. We interpret clusters 1, 2, 3, and 4 as degraded, regenerating, young, and mature forests, respectively. Restoration goals should focus on attaining an even distribution of forest types similar to that found in our best-preserved basins.

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