Conservation value of dispersed tree cover threatened by pasture management. uri icon

abstract

  • Trees dispersed in pastures are a prominent feature of many Central American landscapes, particularly in cattle producing regions where farmers retain trees to serve as shade, fodder, timber and firewood. The presence of dispersed trees in pastures is often considered as important for the conservation of biodiversity by providing habitat and enhancing landscape connectivity. However, despite their critical productive and environmental roles, little is known about tree distribution within pastures or how farmers' management decisions influence the trees themselves and their impact on farm productivity and biodiversity conservation. Here, we present a synthesis of (a) the abundance, composition, and size of dispersed trees in four important cattle producing regions of Costa Rica (Canas and Río Frío) and Nicaragua (Rivas and MatiguË?s), based on inventory of 18,669 trees on 1492 ha of pasture, (b) the local knowledge, management and use of trees by cattle farmers, and (c) opportunities for ensuring sustainable management of dispersed trees in pasture-dominated landscapes. Dispersed trees were common in all four landscapes, with mean frequency ranging from 8.0 trees ha-1 in Canas to 33.4 trees ha-1 in MatiguË?s. A total of 255 tree species were found in pastures across the four landscapes. The total number of tree species per landscape varied from 72 in Rivas to 101 in Canas and Rio Frio, with mean species richness per farm ranging from 22.9 in Rio Frio to 45.9 in MatiguË?s. In all four landscapes, a handful of tree species dominated the pastures, with the ten most abundant species in each landscape accounting for >70% of all trees recorded. Most of these common tree species provide fruits or foliage eaten by cattle, or are important timber or firewood species, and are deliberately retained by farmers for these uses. In all four landscapes, farmers had a detailed knowledge of tree attributes affecting pasture and animal productivity, and influenced tree cover through pasture management activities and occasional tree cutting. Current farm management practices are gradually decreasing the diversity of trees in pastures, and in some cases also tree density, reducing their contribution to farm productivity and biodiversity conservation. To reverse this trend, incentives are required to encourage cattle farmers to retain and enhance tree cover in pastures, through the adoption of pasture management practices that favor the regeneration and persistence of a diverse range of tree species

publication date

  • 2011
  • 2011