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Maintaining the Conservation Value of Shifting Cultivation Landscapes Requires Spatially Explicit Interventions


Fallow vegetation within landscapes dominated by shifting cultivation represents a woody species pool of critical importance with considerable potential for biodiversity conservation. Here, through the analysis of factors that influence the early stages of fallow vegetation regrowth in two contrasting forest margin landscapes in Southern Cameroon, we assessed the impact of current trends of land use intensification and expansion of the cultivated areas, upon the conservation potential of shifting cultivation landscapes. We combined the analysis of plot and landscape scale factors and identified a complex set of variables that influence fallow regrowth processes in particular the characteristics of the agricultural matrix and the distance from forest. Overall we observed a decline in the fallow species pool, with composition becoming increasingly dominated by species adapted to recurrent disturbance. It is clear that without intervention and if present intensification trends continue, the potential of fallow vegetation to contribute to biodiversity conservation declines because of a reduced capacity, (1) to recover forest vegetation with anything like its original species composition, (2) to connect less disturbed forest patches for forest dependent organisms. Strategies to combat biodiversity loss, including promotion of agroforestry practices and the increase of old secondary forest cover, will need not only to operate at a landscape scale but also to be spatially explicit, reflecting the spatial pattern of species reservoirs and dispersal strategies and human usage across landscapes.

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The authors acknowledge ASB, the Alternative to Slash and Burn program at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Nairobi for assisting in the accomplishment of this research project. We also acknowledge funding from the Italian Foreign Ministry that covered the costs of work in Cameroon at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Regional Station in Yaoundé. The study was part of a PhD degree within the School of the Environment and Natural Resources, Bangor University, UK. Thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their comments and guiding.

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Correspondence to Valentina Robiglio.



Appendix 1 Complete species lists


Appendix 2 Labels in RDA analysis 

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Robiglio, V., Sinclair, F. Maintaining the Conservation Value of Shifting Cultivation Landscapes Requires Spatially Explicit Interventions. Environmental Management 48, 289–306 (2011).

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  • Shifting cultivation
  • Intensification
  • Tropical deforestation
  • Fallow
  • Landscape ecology