Can Cocoa Agroforests Provide Functional Connectivity Within a Biodiversity Global Hotspot?

Flávia Fernanda Weber de Souza

Human activities have been threatening wildlife populations living in natural forests, by decreasing and isolating their homes and limiting their movement. Although some land uses surrounding forest fragments are known to allow wildlife movement, the role of others remains unclear. In the threatened Brazilian Atlantic Forest, where more than 80% of forests had been lost and converted to anthropogenic land-uses, the world's largest area of cocoa agroforests occupies the southern Bahia region - a system likely to combine production with biodiversity conservation. Here, we will investigate if and how cocoa agroforests can functionally connect contrasting landscapes to further propose management recommendations.

We will examine:

(1) where, within the landscape, the South American coatis (Nasua nasua) perform determined behaviors and how they change depending on the used landscape.

(2) how coatis select land cultivations (such as cocoa agroforest) and forest fragments given what is available within the different landscapes; and

(3) compare the movement characteristics of the coatis with some connectivity strategies, such as corridors and steppingstones, to identify which strategy fits best depending on which landscape the group is.

Based on the study outcomes, we aim to fill the knowledge gap about the potential role of cocoa agroforests to connect Atlantic Forest fragments. In addition, we expect to find the best way(s) to connect the Atlantic Forest with cocoa agroforests in our study area. We intend to inform the results to Public Ministry, cocoa farms association, and local citizens. The dialogue with those stakeholders will be fundamental to firm the base to turn the cocoa agroforest into an ally to the natural forest through three pillars: in the environmental, by discussing future management actions with policy-makers; in the economic, by engaging local cocoa farmers and sellers for the revaluation of cocoa seeds from agroforests; and in social, raising the cultural pride of this regional production system to citizens and local students.

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