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Recovery of secondary forests, a forest restoration strategy with potential for success 

  • Forest restoration through secondary forests is essential over the next decade for biodiversity conservation, production of economic activities and for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

December 20, 2021. The increasing deforestation of tropical forests has led to their rapid disappearance, however, the recent study Functional recovery of secondary forests presents the potential for forests to regrow naturally through the process of secondary succession.

The research, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS),, brought together a broad group of researchers from around the world to propose a sound ecological strategy for improving forest and landscape restoration, a key element of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. 

Among the researchers involved are the contributions of graduates from the Graduate School of CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center): Francisco Álvarez, Vanessa Granda and Luis Utrera, as well as Bryan Finegan, leader of the Center's Forest and Biodiversity in Productive Landscapes Unit. 

The article analyzed secondary forests based on community data, located in more than a thousand plots and distributed in 30 forests in the tropical zone of America (Neotropics), where about a third of all forests have grown through secondary succession. To this end, we sought to understand the process of growth and assemblage through the functional traits approach, which generate the necessary inputs to build forest restoration strategies with greater potential for success and from a natural recovery. 

Among the findings highlighted for determining restoration values is that wet forests have a higher growth rate than dry forests, since the soft wood, common in wet zone forests, implies that trees grow faster due to their tolerance to shade. Meanwhile, dry zone forests, where hardwood trees predominate, have greater longevity and fire resistance. 

According to Finegan, the study highlights the importance of understanding secondary succession through the functional traits of the species, since these traits range from seed dispersal (by wind or fauna), to the characteristics of the leaves, timber potential, carbon storage capacity, fire tolerance, as well as the time required for growth, thus collaborating in the development of appropriate actions according to each forest and, at the same time, allowing for the reduction of deforestation in primary forests.

If you wish to expand on the topic, the article "Multidimensional tropical forestrecovery" was also recently published in the international journal Science, where CATIE collaborates and evaluates the potential of secondary forests as a nature-based solution for ecosystem restoration.

Other findings are explored in the recently published special issue of the journal Forest Ecology and Management, edited by Marie-AngeNgoBieng, researcher at the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (Cirad); Bryan Finegan and Plinio Sist, Cirad researcher. To access the full article, please click here.


For more information:

Bryan Finegan
Forests and Biodiversity in Productive Landscapes Unit
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Written by:

Dannia Gamboa Solís
Communications Assistant
Information Technology and Communication
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