Identifying and assessing areas for pine woodland regeneration in the lowland savannas of Southern Belize
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Lowland savannas occupy almost 10% of the total land area of Belize, comprising landscapes with high ecological and economical value. The most distinctive tree of the Belizean savanna, the Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis), is valuable not only as a timber resource, but also in forming natural habitats for the local endangered species. However, degradation by frequent fires, anthropogenic pressures and climate change often convert gallery pine forests and dense tree savannas (savanna woodlands) into open grasslands and shrubland formations with low regeneration of pine. The understanding of the relationship between pine savannas and various environmental factors is critical in devising sustainable management and conservation plans. In this study, the 1974 forest inventory of the Southern Coastal Plain of Belize is compared to recent land cover mapping derived from classifying satellite images, with an aim to quantitatively assess the pine vegetation cover change, as well as the distribution of various savanna subtypes. Moreover, land system mapping of the district reflecting the environmental constraints is evaluated in conjunction with the land cover mappings of the same area to provide insights on the land suitability for sustaining pine growth. Key ecological determinants, recognised for the diverse structure and function of savannas, namely topography, water regime (drainage) and most significantly, soil fertility, are assessed to define areas that have the best potential to support pine woodland structure. Finally, areas most suitable for pine woodland regeneration are identified based on an integrated evaluation of historical pine savanna distribution data, environmental deterministic factors and observed deforestation and vegetation change patterns.