Twenty-year assessment of Lignum-vitae (Guaiacum sanctum, Zygophyllaceae) in the Palo Verde National Park of Costa Rica
Introduction: The Lignum-vitae (Guaiacum sanctum; Zygophyllaceae) of Mesoamerica and the Greater Antilles, is threatened over much of its range. We evaluated whether a G. sanctum population in the Palo Verde National Park of Costa Rica is viable in the long term. Methods: Using two demographic studies, one in 1997 and the other in 2017, we estimated survival and fecundity rates for each tree age class, population growth rate (lambda), and vital rates elasticities, and we used a density-independent deterministic population model to project the long-term trend of that population. Results: The estimated vital rates during the last 20 years suggested that this population is rapidly decreasing. Although some age classes increased in abundance, seedlings are rare and the plants that recruited in 1997 have not yet reached reproductive maturity. Our results suggest that the current abundance of G. sanctum within the national park may not be a good indicator of its long-term conservation status, and from our population viability analysis, we estimated that the population we studied would decrease to less than 1 % of its current size within the next 200 years. Conclusions: Landscape-scale ecosystem deterioration affecting the greater PVNP region, such as loss of seed dispersers and suppression of disturbances, may offset the passive protection of G. sanctum within park boundaries. Relying on the overall strict protection afforded by the location of the population within the Palo Verde National Park may not be sufficient to conserve this population of G. sanctum. We recommend that more proactive experimental protection and/or restoration measures, possibly including disturbance treatments, be implemented within a research program.