Floristic diversity of sabal palmetto woodland:: An endemic and endangered vegetation type from Mexico

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The sabal palmetto woodland is a tropical plant formation dominated by Sabal mexicana, with restricted distribution to southeast Mexico. Sabal palms grow on poor soils but accumulate large quantities of organic substrate in their crowns, harboring a contingent of plants that use it as phorophyte. Although it is a threatened formation, basic information on its biodiversity is scant. We examined the floristic diversity of recruited (diameter at breast height, DBH, ≤1 cm) and understory (DBH ≤ 1 cm) plants, and its variation with anthropogenic disturbance. We also examined the floristic diversity of plants that use the sabal palms as phorophytes, and assessed its variation with human impact. All plants present in transects within a conserved and an adjacent perturbed area were sampled. The list of observed taxa shows that this vegetation has a clear affinity with tropical dry and wet forests of Mexico, with a small representation of taxa from desert ecosystems. The floristic contingent included a total of 81 species in 2000 m2. Richness, composition and diversity were affected by disturbance. Recruited and understory vegetation in the disturbed site were 5- and 1.6-times less diverse than in the conserved site, and species of mature, conserved vegetation were substituted by heliophytes in the disturbed site. In contrast, abundance of palms and diversity and identity of epiphytic/hemiepiphytic plants were not affected by disturbance. We show that even monodominated tropical ecosystems growing on poor soils have a high floristic diversity and that current anthropogenic impact threatens not only species and populations but also entire plant formations.

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