Temporal changes in forest contexts at multiple extents: Three decades of fragmentation in the Gran Chaco (1979-2010), Central Argentina

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Abstract

© 2015 Frate et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. The context in which a forest exists strongly influences its function and sustainability. Unveiling the multi-scale nature of forest fragmentation context is crucial to understand how human activities affect the spatial patterns of forests across a range of scales. However, this issue remains almost unexplored in subtropical ecosystems. In this study, we analyzed temporal changes (1979-2010) in forest contexts in the Argentinean dry Chaco at multiple extents. W e classified forests over the last three decades based on forest context amount (P f ) and structural connectivity (P ff ), which were measured using a moving window approach fixed at eight different extents (from local, ∼ 6 ha, to regional, ∼ 8300 ha). Specific multi-scale forest context profiles (for the years 1979 and 2010) were defined by projecting P f vs. P ff mean values and were compared across spatial extents. The distributions of P f across scales were described by scalograms and their shapes over time were compared. The amount of agricultural land and rangelands across the scales were also analyzed. The dry Chaco has undergone an intensive process of fragmentation, resulting in a shift from landscapes dominated by forests with gaps of rangelands to landscapes where small forest patches are embedded in agricultural lands. Multi-scale fragmentation analysis depicted landscapes in which local exploitation, which perforates forest cover, occurs alongside extensive forest clearings, reducing forests to small and isolated patches surrounded by agricultural lands. In addition, the temporal diminution of P f 's variability along with the increment of the mean slope of the P f 's scalograms, indicate a simplification of the spatial pattern of forest over time. The observed changes have most likely been the result of the interplay between human activities and environmental constraints, which have shaped the spatial patterns of forests across scales. Based on our results, strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of the dry Chaco should take into account both the context of each habitat location and the scales over which a forest pattern might be preserved, altered or restored.

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Frate, L., Acosta, A. T. R., Cabido, M., Hoyos, L., & Carranza, M. L. (2015). Temporal changes in forest contexts at multiple extents: Three decades of fragmentation in the Gran Chaco (1979-2010), Central Argentina. PLoS ONE, 10(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0142855

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