Fire drives abandoned pastures to a savanna-like state in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest: Implications for ecological restoration

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Jerônimo Boelsums Barreto Sansevero

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Most tropical forests are threatened by a myriad of human-induced disturbances associated with land use changes, altered fire regimes, and direct deforestation. The combined effect of multiple disturbances can shift forests towards a new, resilient state that is qualitatively distinct in structure, species composition, and function. We found that abandoned pastures affected by fires showed similarity in terms of vegetation structure, species composition, and plant functional traits to a savanna-like ecosystem. The study was carried out at Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, located in the Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil (22º 32`17“S, 42º 16`50“W). Burned communities exhibited more C4 grass cover, a higher proportion of resprouts, and lower canopy cover as compared to the old-growth forest. Moreover, 81% of species at the burned sites have a widespread distribution and are also found in the Cerrado biome. Species composition was strikingly different from old-growth forests since burned sites were dominated by Moquiniastrum polymorphum (Less.) G. Sancho (Asteraceae), which was absent in the old-growth forests. The results observed in this study provide biological evidence of arrested succession with the establishment of a savanna-like ecosystem as an alternative stable state. These results have important practical implications because differences between tropical savannas and forests imply important changes in the provision of ecosystem services, restoration and conservation strategies, as well as in the way these communities will respond to climate change.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Society for Ecological Restoration