Isolated Ficus trees deliver dual conservation and development benefits in a rural landscape

Many of the world's rural populations are dependent on the local provision of economically and medicinally important plant resources. However, increasing land-use intensity is depleting these resources, reducing human welfare, and thereby constraining development. Here we investigate a low cost strategy to manage the availability of valuable plant resources, facilitated by the use of isolated Ficus trees as restoration nuclei. We surveyed the plants growing under 207 isolated trees in Assam, India, and categorized them according to their local human-uses. We found that Ficus trees were associated with double the density of important high-grade timber, firewood, human food, livestock fodder, and medicinal plants compared to non-Ficus trees. Management practices were also important in determining the density of valuable plants, with grazing pressure and land-use intensity significantly affecting densities in most categories. Community management practices that conserve isolated Ficus trees, and restrict livestock grazing and high-intensity land-use in their vicinity, can promote plant growth and the provision of important local resources