Are Protected Areas Really Protecting Populations? A Test with an Atlantic Rain Forest Palm


We compared the demography of the palm Euterpe edulis in a large forest fragment that is protected from palm harvesting with that in three smaller fragments where harvesting has occurred. Palms were censused from 2005 to 2007 in nine 30 m ? 30 m plots in each forest fragment. Each individual was assigned to one of five stage classes: seedling, infant, juvenile, immature, and reproductive. Using summary matrices constructed for the fragments and a matrix for the population in the protected area, we compared the asymptotic growth rate (?) in the protected and non-protected areas. We then quantified the contribution of each lower-level vital rate to the observed differences in ? using a fixed-design LTRE. Euterpe edulis populations in the protected area are projected to shrink at rates of 4.54 to 12.6% per year, and the populations of the fragments are projected to grow at rates of 3.44 to 9.43% per year. Our LTRE analysis revealed that the generally higher ? for the summary matrix based on the populations in fragments was due primarily to greater survival of immatures and reproductives. However, seedling growth contributed negatively to ? in the fragments. We also found that great numbers of immatures and reproductives were killed by the capuchin monkey (Cebus nigritus), which apparently also contributes to the differences between the protected area and the fragments. This study lends support to the idea that small fragments in a landscape actively managed and modified by humans can be very important in maintaining viable plant populations.

Tropical Conservation Science, (3), 4, pp. 361–372,