Scattered trees are prominent features in many landscapes worldwide, including natural landscapes, cultural landscapes, and recently modified landscapes. The ecological importance of scattered trees is widely acknowledged in natural landscapes, but has not been sufficiently appreciated in human-modified landscapes. This paper shows that scattered trees are keystone structures in a wide range of landscapes. At the local scale, ecological functions of scattered trees include: provision of a distinct microclimate; increased soil nutrients; increased plant species richness; increased structural complexity; and habitat for animals. At the landscape scale, ecological roles include: increased landscape-scale tree cover; increased connectivity for animals; increased genetic connectivity for tree populations; and provision of genetic material and focal points for future large-scale ecosystem restoration. Furthermore, in disturbed landscapes, scattered trees often are biological legacies that provide ecological continuity through time. In combination, these ecological functions support the argument that scattered trees are keystone structures. That is, their contribution to ecosystem functioning is disproportionately large given the small area occupied and low biomass of any given tree, and the low density of scattered trees collectively. Because scattered trees fulfill unique functional roles in a wide range of scattered tree ecosystems, their loss may result in undesirable ecological regime shifts. A key management challenge in all landscapes with scattered trees is to maintain a balance between recruitment and mortality of trees in an appropriate spatial pattern. Meeting this challenge may represent an important step towards the genuine integration of conservation and production in human-modified landscapes.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Oct 1, 2006
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