Over the last two decades, forest conservation and restoration has emerged as one of the leading science-based efforts to mitigate human pressures on the earth’s ecosystems. However, the planning and coordination of these efforts are complex, because individual species respond differently to the variety of anthropogenic forces that threaten forest landscapes. Fortunately, that’s exactly the challenge that motivates vulnerability mapping efforts. This month, Tobias Fremout, a PhD candidate at the University of Leuven in Belgium, alongside Alliance scientists Evert Thomas and Rachel Atkinson, publishedan article in the journal of Global Change Biology that presents their spatial and species-specific vulnerability mapping model for the tropical dry forest of northwestern Peru. The publication not only summarizes important insights for forest restoration in this very unique and endangered landscape, but also presents a novel approach to vulnerability mapping that could inform similar efforts around the world.
Their model evaluates how the anthropogenic threats of overexploitation, overgrazing, forest fires, habitat conversion, and climate change affect 50 of the most common tree species in the tropical dry forest of northwestern Peru and southern Ecuador. The results demonstrate that the threats are alarming—nearly half (46%) of the predicted species’ distributions were found to be highly or very highly vulnerable to one or more of the threats. Furthermore, their results suggest that current levels of overgrazing, habitat conversion, and overexploitation pose higher risks to the tree species than the looming threat of climate change. In other words, restoration and conservation actions need to be in place for the very near future, not several decades from now. With this much of a highly endemic ecosystem at risk, the team set out to make their findings more applicable. Based on the vulnerability assessment results, they proposed three types of species-specific restoration and conservation actions:
- in-situ conservation of tree populations and seed collection for tree planting activities in areas with low vulnerability to climate change and current threats,
- ex-situ conservation or translocation of populations in areas with high climate change vulnerability
- active planting or assisted regeneration in areas under high current threat vulnerability but low climate change vulnerability, provided interventions are in place to lower threat pressure.
This approach was applied to the distribution of each species in order to generate priority action maps, like the one shown at the top of this page.