This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico is unique for the U.S. Forest Service. At 28,000 acres, it’s the smallest national forest and the only tropical rain forest managed by the Forest Service, boasting the greatest biodiversity among national forests.
However, the northern boundary of El Yunque is only a 45-minute drive from the sprawling metropolis of Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan, and urban expansion in the 8 municipalities surrounding El Yunque increased by 21 percent from 1998 to 2010. Consequently, the forest faces many of the same problems by other natural areas: increased urbanization around their natural boundaries, overuse from tourism, and threats to water resources.
In an effort to minimize the negative effects of urban expansion on the forest, several conservation initiatives have been introduced over the past few decades. Nevertheless, development has continued around El Yunque and land acquisition efforts have progressed slowly, due to the lack of financial resources for these initiatives and poor enforcement.
In addressing this need, Tania López-Marrero, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, published a study in collaboration with the U. S. Forest Service to understand stakeholders’ knowledge about the services provided by El Yunque and the factors affecting these services. The research data may be used to assist in the management and planning of land use, ensuring continued use of the ecosystem services for the people in the communities surrounding the forest and beyond.