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Title: Emerging forests on abandoned land: Puerto Rico’s new forests

Author: Lugo, Ariel E.; Helmer, Eileen;

Date: 2004

Source: Forest Ecology and Management 190 :145–161

Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication

Description: The species composition of forests change continuously as the earth’s biota evolves and adjusts to environmental change. Humans are accelerating the rate of species turnover by moving species around the planet and dramatically changing environmental conditions. Our focus is on new forests in Puerto Rico that emerge naturally on abandoned lands previously converted to agriculture and degraded. These forest stands have combinations of species that are new to the island’s landscapes. New forests exhibit high species dominance during forest establishment, which includes dominance by alien tree species. These alien tree species establish and maintain forest cover, which may facilitate regeneration of native tree species. Landscape analysis and literature review revealed that these emerging stands are highly fragmented (60% were <1 ha in 1991), function as refugia for native organisms, and at 60–80 years old have similar species richness and structural features as native stands of similar age. However, the island’s new forests exhibit important differences from mature native forests on unconverted forestlands. New forests have fewer endemic species and fewer large trees (55 cm dbh) than mature native forests; they have higher soil bulk density and lower soil carbon and litter stocks; and they accumulate aboveground biomass, basal area, and soil carbon more slowly than native forests of similar age. We suggest that new forests will become increasingly prevalent in the biosphere in response to novel environmental conditions introduced to the planet by humans.

Keywords: Puerto Rico’s forest, Species turnover, Unconverted forestlands, Tropical forests, Succession, Degraded lands, Alien species

Publication Notes:

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Lugo, Ariel E.; Helmer, Eileen 2004. Emerging forests on abandoned land: Puerto Rico’s new forests. Forest Ecology and Management 190 :145–161


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