Matrix analysis to evaluate sustainability: The tropical tree Aquilaria crassna, a heavily poached source of agarwood

We used size-structured Lefkovitch projection matrix analysis to predict future trends in the survival of Aquilaria crassna (Thymelaeaceae), a tropical evergreen forest tree that has been highly sought after for its valuable aromatic wood (agarwood) for millennia. Data on growth, damage to trees by poachers, fruit production, seed dispersal and seedling recruitment were collected from a 30-ha plot in Khao Yai National Park, central Thailand that had seen moderate poaching. The population asymptotic growth rate, λa, and transient growth rate, λtr, found from using the matrix to project the observed population 48 years, were 1.002 and 1.005, respectively, with 95% confidence intervals of [0.985, 1.016] and [0.985, 1.023]. The stable size distribution obtained from the matrix was reasonably similar to the observed size distribution, suggesting that at the time of the study the population was not far from equilibrium. Sensitivity analysis and simulations of poaching on adult trees indicate that both λ’s are very sensitive to the removal of adult trees and the growth of preadult trees. In particular, the increase in tree mortality and decrease in preadult growth rate caused by agarwood collection seen in some areas could cause extirpation of the population. While in such cases the population appears to be poised on the brink of decline, several factors that we could not evaluate could alter its fate. First, adult deaths could stimulate recruitment of young under the parent trees; second, there is marked year-to-year variation in fruiting success and possibly recruitment; third, there is considerable spatial variation in tree density and recruitment, suggesting that attempts to evaluate future success need to encompass larger spatial and time scales.

Lixin Zhang, Warren Y. Brockelman, & Michael A. Allen
Biological Conservation
Mo Singto