|Timm, R. M., D. Lieberman, M. Lieberman, and D. McClearn. 2009. Mammals of Cabo Blanco: History, diversity, and conservation after 45 years of regrowth of a Costa Rican dry forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 258:997-1013.
|Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco, a strongly seasonal deciduous forest located at the southernmost tip of northwestern Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, was established in 1963 and is the country's oldest nationally protected reserve. The peninsula has been occupied for millennia and is a heavily impacted landscape, and, unfortunately, its biotic diversity is among the most poorly studied in Central America. As part of multiyear studies of the flora and fauna of the region, we assess the changes in vegetation and the terrestrial mammal community from earlier times to the present day. Through historical records, interviews with long-term residents of the area, and our studies over the past decade, we document changes in forest cover, settlement, and land use, and assess the changes in species diversity and in mammal species’ abundance. We then discuss the ecology of the mammal species on the peninsula, emphasizing the role that humans have played in influencing population levels.
After 45 years of protection, the forest structure of the 3100 ha reserve differs markedly from that observed in the early 20th Century and it is quite heterogeneous. Species diversity of both the native vegetation and the mammals is substantial in the regenerating forest. The known mammal fauna included at least 37 species of non-flying mammals and 39 species of bats. Six species (Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Giant Anteater, White-lipped Peccary, Central American Red Brocket Deer, Baird's Tapir, and Jaguar) have been extirpated from the reserve. Poaching of game species continues and will be difficult to eliminate completely. Nevertheless, with regenerating habitats, coupled with protection of wildlife, reestablishment of the reserve's native species has been dramatic both in terms of species diversity and abundance. The reserve is not in a defaunated condition. Many mammalian frugivores, seed dispersers, and/or seed predators are common and most top mammalian predators are present. We present several testable hypotheses regarding the significance of this mammalian community in the context of other Neotropical forest mammal and plant communities. Rapid expansion of tourism in this region has the potential to affect the reserve adversely. In recent years, the reserve has served as an important site for teaching tropical biology courses. Small reserves, such as Cabo Blanco, even if not connected to larger protected areas through corridors, provide critical habitat for native flora and fauna, a source of genetic stock, and valuable regional teaching and research sites.