New scientific framework to plan the conservation of dry forests in tropical America

Dry forests in Latin America are amongst the world’s most threatened tropical forests.  Less than 10% of their original extent remains in many countries, much less than many rain forests such as Amazonia that remains approximately 80% intact.  Dry forests were the cradle of pre-Colombian civilisation in Latin America, and the source of globally important crops such as maize, beans, peanuts and tomato, but despite this and their widespread destruction, they have been long-overlooked by scientists and conservationists.

The Latin American Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Floristic Network (DRYFLOR; http://www.dryflor.info/), funded by a Leverhulme Trust International Network grant and including more than 50 scientists and conservationists from Latin American and the Caribbean and led from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, has developed an unprecedented database of dry forest tree species, based upon 1602 inventories across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Professor Toby Pennington, leader of the DRYFLOR Project explained: “In this paper published in the journal Science, we show that these dry forests contain a remarkable 6958 species of woody plants. Our data demonstrate that the species found in different regions of dry forest are seldom shared, meaning that each contains species growing nowhere else. This conveys a simple but urgent message that numerous protected areas across many countries will be needed to protect the full diversity of dry forests. In the light of probable warmer climates in the tropics, conservation of unique dry forest species that have adaptations to heat and drought should be global priority.”

Lead author, Karina Bandar, added: “DRYFLOR’s results provide a scientific framework within which, for the first time, national decision makers can contextualise the significance of their dry forests at a regional and continental scale.”

ENDS

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)