The northern karst of Puerto Rico is a unique formation that contains one of the island's largest remaining forested tracts. The region is under ever-increasing human pressure, but large portions of it are being considered for conservation. Forest classification of the region is at a coarse scale, such that it is considered one vegetation type. We asked whether there were distinct tree assemblages which would necessitate targeted conservation strategies to ensure their protection. We examined tree species and communities across the region at three different major topographic positions along mogotes, or haystack-shaped hills. We found distinct tree communities on hilltops and valleys, with significantly more non-native species in valleys and significantly more endemic species on hilltops and hillsides. At a landscape level, we identified at least four different communities within each topographic position. Two mogote top communities were separated geographically (west and south) within the region, while two others co-occurred in the east-central part of the region. Mogote side and valley communities were less distinct geographically. Temperature, elevation, and precipitation were important variables in separating some communities, suggesting that abiotic stress may play an important role in the distribution of some species. In contrast, the lack of geographic separations of other communities suggested that variables such as soil conditions, land use and biotic interactions such as dispersal limitation may also be important. Conservation planning strategies should target the south, west, and east-central areas that harbor distinct mogote top plant communities to ensure protection of the widest range of tree species and communities in the karst region.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science