Floristic composition and structure of vegetation under isolated trees in neotropical pastures


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Abstract. Large isolated trees are a common feature of the agricultural landscape in humid tropical regions originally covered by rain forest. These isolated trees are primarily used as a source of shade for cattle and people. 13 pastures (totalling ca. 80 ha) currently used as cattle pasture were studied. In them, we registered 265 isolated trees belonging to 57 species. 50 trees of the most frequent species (Ficus spp. n = 30 and Nectandra ambigens n = 20) were selected to examine the influence of isolated trees on floristic composition and vegetation structure in the pastures. At each tree, three 4–m2 quadrats were sampled: under the canopy, directly under the canopy perimeter, and beyond the canopy in the open pasture. Under-canopy vegetation was structurally and floristically different from the other two sampling sites. Mean species richness per quadrat was significantly higher under the canopy (17.8 ± 4.3 SD) than at the canopy perimeter (11.2 ± 3.4) and in the open pasture (10.6 ± 3.6) sites. Stem density was higher at under-canopy sites, where greater proportions of endozoochorous and rain-forest species were found. Isolated trees function as nursery plants for rain-forest species by facilitating the establishment of zoochorous species whose seeds are deposited under the tree canopies by frugivorous birds or bats. Our results imply that isolated trees may play a major role in seed dispersal and establishment of native species, which is of consequence for the preservation of rain-forest species in these fragmented landscapes.