Question: Species diversity is commonly expressed as the number of species present in an area, but this unique value assumes that all species contribute equally to the area's biodiversity. Can taxonomic diversity be used as a complementary measure for species richness in order to assess plant biodiversity in remnants of primary forest and patches of secondary vegetation?
Location: Veracruz, Mexico.
Methods: Using data from six sampling transects of each vegetation type in an elevation gradient (400-900 m a.s.l.), we compare the point, mean and cumulative floristic diversity of primary forest and secondary vegetation in a tropical deciduous landscape, using species richness and two measures of taxonomic diversity: average taxonomic distinctness (Δ+) and variation in taxonomic distinctness (Λ+). We performed a randomization test to detect differences in the observed taxonomic diversity, from the expected values derived from the species pool of each vegetation type.
Results: We found that the species of secondary vegetation are more closely related at low taxonomic levels (lower Δ+ value) than the species of primary forest remnants. Also, in secondary vegetation the distribution of species is uneven among the taxonomic levels and units (high Λ+ value). These patterns are consistent for point, mean and cumulative taxonomic diversity. Families Asteraceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae and Poaceae are over-represented, while families Bromeliaceae, Cactaceae, Orchidaceae and Pteridaceae are under-represented in secondary vegetation.
Conclusions: Although in a previous paper we concluded that secondary vegetation is more alpha-diverse than primary forest (in terms of both cumulative and mean species richness), and beta-diversity between vegetation types is notoriously high, we now provide a wider view by highlighting the importance of taxonomic diversity in primary forest remnants. Our data indicate that to measure biodiversity accurately, we should seek to capture its different facets. This will allow us to make conservation recommendations based on a broader view, and not on a single dimension.