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Ecol Appl. 2007 Jan;17(1):118-28.

Testing sustainability by prospective and retrospective demographic analyses: evaluation for palm leaf harvest.

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  • 1Section of Plant Ecology and Biodiversity, Faculty of Science, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80084, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands. p.a.zuidema@bio.uu.nl


Harvesting nontimber forest products (NTFPs) is a major economic activity in tropical forests. As many NTFPs are overexploited, sustainability analyses are required to set harvest guidelines. Here we introduce and apply a new approach to evaluating sustainability, which combines prospective (elasticity) and retrospective (Life Table Response Experiments [LTRE]) demographic analyses of matrix population models. We relate the elasticity of vital rates (representing their importance for population growth rate, lamda) to their contribution to harvest-induced change in lamda ("LTRE contribution"). When high-elasticity vital rates have a low LTRE contribution, exploitation is potentially sustainable as negative effects for population growth are buffered. If the reverse is found, there is little scope for sustainability because crucial vital rates are affected. Our approach is less sensitive to chance fluctuations than the commonly used sustainability criterion of lamda = 1.0, as it does not depend on the absolute value of lamda. We applied this analysis to Geonoma deversa, a clustered forest understory palm. We studied three experimentally defoliated and control populations in a Bolivian rainforest during two years. Cutting all leaves of large ramets did not change mortality but strongly affected growth and reproduction. In spite of severe changes in some vital rates, population growth rate was not significantly reduced after defoliation. A literature review revealed that six other understory palms species responded very similarly to defoliation. The combination of LTRE contributions and elasticity analyses showed that low-elasticity vital rates were mainly responsible for the defoliation-induced change in lamda for Geonoma deversa. For two other understory palms (Astrocaryum mexicanum and Chamaedorea radicalis) new demographic analyses yielded very similar results. For Geonoma, the LTRE contribution-elasticity relation strongly changed when we mimicked harvest damage. Adding 5% mortality to defoliated palms caused stronger change in lamda, mainly due to changes in a high-elasticity vital rate (survival). Therefore, harvest practices that involve stem killing are clearly unsustainable. Our results show that commercial leaf cutting in Geonoma deversa is potentially sustainable, and that this is likely the case for understory palms in general. Our approach to evaluating harvest sustainability can be applied to other NTFPs.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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