In the Andean highlands, Polylepis woodlands are a rare and unique ecosystem of the treeline. Although human activities have caused the loss of extensive forested areas and decreased woodland regeneration, few systematic and quantitative assessments have been carried out in Polylepis forests. This study compares differences in habitat characteristics, population structure, and reproductive output in populations of Polylepis tomentella subject to different levels of human disturbance in the south-central Andes of Bolivia. We selected P. tomentella because the species still covers large extensions in the form of fragmented forest patches. Results show that human activities affected all the studied populations. Moderately disturbed populations exhibited a lower percentage of farmed area (0.6%) and browsed plants (4%) than strongly disturbed populations (5% and 12%, respectively). All populations exhibited similar proportion of plants with logging scars. Potassium content and canopy closure were 1.5 and 2.5 higher, respectively, in strongly disturbed populations. The density of saplings and seedlings were 75 percent and 80 percent lower in strongly disturbed populations than in moderately disturbed population, even though reproductive individuals produced twice more flowers and fruits. Our results suggest that fruit production does not limit regeneration of P. tomentella and post-dispersal mechanisms may decrease seed germination and increase seedling mortality. Overall, strongly disturbed populations will be less likely to regenerate, leading to population decline. Conservation programs should facilitate forest recovery by promoting seedling establishment, reducing overharvesting and over-browsing, and protecting remaining adult plants.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics