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The Lesser Antilles, True Laboratories for the Study of Forest Systems the Evolution (from the Inventory of Plant Species to the Dynamics of the Anthropized Landscapes)

DOI: 10.4236/oalib.1102969, PP. 1-17

Subject Areas: Ecology, Natural Geography, Biogeography

Keywords: French West Indies, Forest Ecosystems, Anthropization, Biodiversity, Landscape

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Despite their small size, the French West Indies are characterised by a large number of environments supporting a surprisingly high floristic, ecosystem and landscape diversity. From the foundation of dwelling groups, beginning in the 17th century to the present day, human activities have resulted in the sharp decline of the forest areas. To some extent, the Caribbean forest has become “insularized”. Originally, these forests covered the entire islands from the coast to circa 800 meters of altitude, where the environmental conditions permitted the development of forest biocenosis. Survival space for the American Indians and early settlers, despite its gradual weakening and its spatial regression in the 18th and the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, the forest ecosystem represented a place of high exploitation of the wood resources in principal for energy, carpentry, cabinetmaking, housing and industry linked to profit-generating crops (sugar cane). Unlike the pre-colonial period where the tree was predominant, the present vegetation is dominated by regressive communities, consisting of shrub and herbaceous communities. Since their origin, the Lesser Antilles have represented special objects of study for naturalists, botanists and systematics scholars, especially concerning the forest ecosystems. They are also true laboratories for the study of vegetation dynamics and the evolution of the man-environment relationships where the landscape is a relevant descriptor. This article aims to show the evolution of knowledge of the structures, functions and spatiotemporal dynamics of the plant ecosystems of the Lesser Antilles. The biocenotic diversity of the vegetation of the islands required the knowledge of species, associations they represent and the bioclimates who influence them. In this context Martinique is a significant example of the ecosystem complexity under anthropogenic stresses.

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Joseph, P. and Baillard, K. (2016). The Lesser Antilles, True Laboratories for the Study of Forest Systems the Evolution (from the Inventory of Plant Species to the Dynamics of the Anthropized Landscapes). Open Access Library Journal, 3, e2969. doi:


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