Old growth, ancient tropical forests can be restored

More protection from deforestation of old growth tropical forests is needed to fight climate change and protect the biodiversity of life on earth. “I am gravely concerned about what is happening with tropical forests,” William Laurance, a researcher with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama told AFP. “There is a very high rate of destruction of the old growth, ancient forests.”

…”50 football pitches of virgin rainforest was being destroyed every minute amid global warming, large scale habitat fragmentation, and changes in rainfall.”rainforest21

Intense hunting in areas of the tropics was also leading to the disappearance of “hundreds of species of amphibians,” he said. “Now we have synergy among those different threats,” Laurance said.

“So when you talk about global warming for example because it’s getting hotter, species in the tropics, where it’s possible, will naturally try to move up to higher elevations where it’s a little bit cooler.

“In many cases they will be trapped by habitat construction, cattle pass, degraded lands,” he warned.

Laurance presented his findings at a conference organized in Washington by the Smithsonian Natural History museum.

The bad news

Indonesia is now in terrible shape, losing more than two million hectares (4.9 million acres) of forest per year. Borneo is being devastated,” he said.

More than half of the planet’s 20 million square kilometers (eight million square miles) of rainforests has already been cleared for human use, while another five million square kilometers (two million square miles) has been selectively logged, said Greg Asner from the Carnegie Institution.

The promising news

But he said major swathes of land, or some 350,000 square kilometers (140,000 square miles), have been abandoned by human inhabitants and are beginning to grow back.

“Moreover, the regrowth is relatively quick. The forest canopy closes after just 15 years. After 20 years, about half of the original biomass weight has grown back,” he said.

Another success story-we can do it !


1o years ago researchers planted worn-out cattle pastures in Costa Rica with a sampling of local trees, native species of plants began to move in and flourish, raising the hope that destroyed rain forests could one day be replaced.

Cornell graduate student Jackeline Salazar counted the species of plants that took up residence in the shade of the new planted areas over that 10 year  period. She found more than 100 in each plot and many of the new arrivals were also found in neighboring remnants of the original forests.

Forest restoration aims to improve the native forests and control erosion and helping the quality of life for the local people. Carl Leopold, the William H. Crocker Scientist Emeritus at BTI. ” …pointed out that drinking water becomes more readily available when forests thrive because tree roots act as a sort of sponge, favoring rainwater seepage and preventing water running off hills and draining away.”

To revive a rain forest may take hundreds of years,but our impressive growth rates in the new forest trees is hopeful.

Leopold with colleagues from the Ithaca-based Tropical Forestry Initiative began in 1993 by planting mixtures of trees on worn-out pasture land. For 50 years the soil had been compacted under countless hooves, and its nutrients washed away. When it rained, Leopold said, the red soil appeared to bleed from the hillsides.

Carl Leopold posing with a tree in front of one of his plantings, which had been growing for more than three years in a Costa Rican rain forest.

The group chose local rain forest trees for planting, collecting seeds from native trees in the community. “You can’t buy [these] seeds,” Leopold said. “So we passed the word around among our farmer neighbors.” When a farmer reported a tree producing seeds, Leopold and his wife would ride out on horses to collect the seeds before hungry monkeys beat them to it.

The group planted mixtures of local tree species, trimming away the pasture grasses until the trees could take hold. This was the opposite of what commercial companies have done for decades, planting entire fields with a single type of tree to harvest for wood or paper pulp.

The trees the group planted were fast-growing, sun-loving species. After just five years, those first trees formed a canopy of leaves that shaded out the grasses underneath. He believes that microscopic soil fungi called mycorrhizae can take much of the credit. They have apparently survived in the soil and form a symbiosis with tree roots. Research at Cornell and BTI, he said, has shown that without mycorrhizae, many plants can’t grow well.

The promising results of the project mean that mixed-species plantings can help jump-start a complex rain forest. Local farmers who use the same approach will reduce erosion of their land, while creating a forest that can be harvested sustainably, a few trees at a time.


Experts plead to save tropical forests in peril Spacedaily.com

Excerpts courtesy of Cornell University  CronicleONLINE

How campus researchers helped to rescue a rain forest – Beth Skwarecki  April 17, 2008.

rain forest growth

Half a century after most of Costa Rica’s rain forests were cut down, researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Sciences (BTI) on the Cornell campus are attempting what many thought was impossible — restoring a tropical rain forest ecosystem.

Images courtesy of

1. CronicleONLINE

2. Map: treehugger.com/tropicalforestsworld

3. CronicleONLINE

4. CronicleONLINE


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