Habitat loss and anthropogenic disturbance in Jamaica's Hellshire Hills area

Tole, L.A. (2002) Habitat loss and anthropogenic disturbance in Jamaica's Hellshire Hills area. Biodiversity and Conservation, 11 (4). pp. 575-598. ISSN 0960-3115 (https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015593032374)

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This study provides empirical assessments of the magnitude of human pressures on forest habitat in Jamaica's Hellshire Hills. The Hellshire Hills represents an outstanding example of the Caribbean region's dry limestone forests. Approximately 160 km2 in area, the Hellshire Hills is home to a unique and rich biodiversity, including the critically endangered Jamaican Iguana (Cylcura collei). The area's biodiversity is under increasing threat from deforestation from subsistence driven encroachment. Using deforestation as a spatial indicator of habitat loss, the study derives satellite based estimates of the rate of habitat destruction within and immediately outside the area. The underlying human driving forces in this destruction are analyzed in a regression analysis of key socio-economic indicators that adusts for these locational differences. Results suggest that immiserating pressures on species habitat, particularly outside the area, are greater than anywhere else on the island. Simulations of species loss and edge-induced disturbances to species habitat also indicate that the potential impacts of forest conversion may be substantial and extend well beyond the area's boundaries. Together, the study's results highlight the intrinsic vulnerablity of the Hellshire Hills to outside disturbance. In particular, they raise doubts about the potential of the area (which has been accorded protected status within the recently established Portland Bight Protected Area) to provide for the long-term preservation and viability of the area's species. It is concluded that appropriate reserve design and species protection will require the collection of detailed empirical data on species diversity, numbers, habitat requirements, and spatial distribution. However, before this information can be collected priorities for biodiversity conservation must be set. Costs and benefits of conversation must also be assessed within the overall context of an integrated rural development plan for the area.