Biodiversity of the urban homegardens of São Luís city, Northeastern Brazil
Although the homegarden systems in the tropics are claimed to sustain basic community needs without environmental deterioration, the ecological rationalities behind the harmony between the humans, homegardens, and the environment are not well understood. Four study sites (Sukhothai, Srisatchanalai, Ayudhaya, and Nonthaburi) representing the four Thai eras in the Chao Phraya Basin were selected for studying these rationalities. The size and physical stature of the homegardens, their plant association and community features, physical environmental factors, nutrient and soil fertility parameters, and cultivation practices were studied. The major factor that determines species selection in homegardens is the utilization of the products, while the various practices within the homegardens are determined by such factors as the species, the system, and the environment. All homegardens had four vertical stratifications, with physical structures almost similar to that of dry dipterocarp forest, but with lower height for each layer, lower diversity of plants, and sparser crown layer. The analysis also shows a high possible utilization efficiency for space, light, water and nutrients in the soil in the homegardens. Shannon-Wiener's indices of species diversity of the homegardens were close to those of dipterocarp forest. The homegardens are in-situ reservoirs for biodiversity at genetic-, species-, and ecological levels. There was no complete harvesting from these homegardens. This practice ensured minimal nutrient export from the systems, while high amounts and diversity of litter biomass should contribute to high efficiency of nutrient cycling. Futhermore, phosphorus availability could be better in homegardens. The homegardens had more favorable microenvironment with lower soil and atmospheric temperature and higher relative humidity than outside. There has been no single incident of a pest outbreak at a threatening level.