Are We Losing the Best Parts of Our Protected Areas in Tropical Mountains?



Protected areas (PAs) on tropical mountains undergo greater forest destruction in their lower altitudes. We compared the extent of forested, nonforested, and fragmented areas between lowland (<1000 m asl) and montane zones of the Blue Mountains inside the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park established in Jamaica in 1993. We found that in 2008, inside the montane zone, only 4 percent of forest was cleared, and forest fragmentation was minimal. In the lowland zone, however, the percentage of forest cleared was seven times as high, and the density of fragments was 11-fold higher. We established twenty-five 0.04 ha lowland plots; ordination of tree species composition in these plots reflected a rainfall gradient, showing that plots on the wetter northern side of the Blue Mountains were floristically different from those on the drier southern side. The conservation value of the remaining lowland forest is high because of its high endemism (18% of species in our plots) and beta diversity. In addition, IUCN Red List data show that about 71 percent of threatened tree species in the Blue Mountains grow in the lowland region, 92 percent of which are endemic. From these findings, we identify a ‘protected area hotspot zone’, which lies between the PA boundary and the core high-altitude zone, and which should be instituted in IUCN categories I and II PAs.