Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2009
Tropical dry forests may be among the world's most threatened ecosystems, but few studies have objectively quantified their status and threats. This study analysed Venezuelan dry forests at multiple scales, assessing status, present threats and the policy context shaping their future. Historical and current dry forest cover at both national and local scales were contrasted, and a set of quantitative risk assessment criteria applied. While dry forests were vulnerable nationally, in northern-central locations they were endangered. Clearing for cattle ranching and for intensive and subsistence agriculture were the principal factors driving dry forest loss at the national scale, while at a local level, urbanization and fire seemed to be the primary threats. The analysis emphasized the separation of risk assessment from the very different task of establishing conservation priorities; high risk areas may not necessarily be the highest priority for investment, and policy makers may become explicitly aware of the spatial scale at which their policies are implemented, as well as how these policies may affect or be affected by the status of ecosystems beyond their area of influence. The main challenge to future dry forest conservation is a paucity of explicit policies for management and use. However, scientifically-based management can support positive dry forest policies in many ways, including identifying locations and protocols for ecological restoration, maintaining seed banks, quantifying baseline conditions, and monitoring genetic diversity and other indicators.