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Vegetation Ecology of Fiji: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives

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Title: Vegetation Ecology of Fiji: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives
Authors: Ash, Julian
Issue Date: Apr 1992
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Citation: Ash J. 1992. Vegetation ecology of Fiji: past, present, and future perspectives. Pac Sci 46(2): 111-127.
Abstract: The Fiji Archipelago comprises a Tertiary island arc with several
hundred small and a few large mountainous islands near the northeastern corner
of the Australian tectonic plate, 3000 km from continental Australia-New
Guinea. Despite contrary prevailing winds and ocean currents, the flora is very
largely derived from that of Malesia, and the largest component was probably
dispersed by frugivorous birds or bats, of which several taxa are established in
Fiji. About 25% of the native vascular plant species are endemic and, with
exceptions such as the relictual Degeneria, most have apparently diverged from
overseas conspecifics. There are a few cases where speciation has occurred within
Fiji but virtually none where reproductive isolation is established, permitting
cohabitation. Until the arrival of humans, perhaps 4000 and certainly by 3000
yr B.P., the vegetation was predominately rainforests with stunted cloud forest
at high altitude, though some more open communities might have occurred in
drier areas. The forests have a mixed species composition, including most of the
1769 native species, and demographic observations indicate peak population
fecundities after several hundred years for canopy trees and 80 years for several
subcanopy taxa. Flowering phenology of forest species is seasonal with predominately
synchronous annual or, in a few species, biennial frequency, while fruit
maturation is spread throughout the year. Cyclones cause frequent minor
damage and infrequent major damage, especially to coastal and ridge vegetation,
and cause landslides. Insect-induced dieback has been recorded but there are no
extensive single-species rainforests, except swamp forests, so the effects are
diffuse. The impact of humans has been to convert much of the drier forest to
frequently burned sedge-fern-grasslands, to create garden-forest successional
mosaics around settlements in wetter areas, and, more recently, to selectively log
much of the remaining accessible forest. Many plants have been introduced and
established in cultivated or disturbed areas, increasing the flora by about 50%
and largely excluding native taxa from those areas. Habitat conversion is thus
the major threat to the conservation of Fijian native vegetation.
ISSN: 0030-8870
Appears in Collections:Pacific Science Volume 46, Number 2, 1992

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