Inventories of tree species are often conducted to guide conservation efforts in tropical forests. Such surveys are time consuming, demanding of expertise, and expensive to perform and interpret. Approaches to make survey efforts simpler or more effective would be valuable. In particular, it would be good to be able to easily identify areas of old-growth forest. The average density of the wood of a tree species is closely linked to its successional status. We used tree inventory data from eastern Borneo to determine whether wood density can be used to quantify forest disturbance and conservation importance. The average density of wood in a plot was significantly and negatively related to disturbance levels, with plots with higher wood densities occurring almost exclusively in old-growth forests. Average wood density was unimodally related to the diversity of tree species, indicating that the average wood density in a plot might be a better indicator of old-growth forest than species diversity. In addition, Borneo endemics had significantly heavier wood than species that are common throughout the Malesian region, and they were more common in plots with higher average wood density. We concluded that wood density at the plot level could be a powerful tool for identifying areas of conservation priority in the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia.
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