Study: Cleared Tropical Forest Regrowth Helps Slow Climate Change

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Instead of banning logging in the Amazon, climate activists should encourage managed logging, to help draw down more CO2 from the atmosphere.

Tropical forests can recover surprisingly quickly on deforested lands – and letting them regrow naturally is an effective and low-cost way to slow climate change

December 10, 2021 6.03am AEDT

Robin Chazdon Professor Emerita of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut

Bruno Hérault Tropical Forest Scientist, Forests & Societies Research Unit, Cirad

Catarina Conte Jakovac Associate professor of Plant Science, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina

Lourens Poorter Professor of Functional Ecology, Wageningen University

Tropical forests are among the world’s best tools for fighting climate change and the loss of wild species. They store huge quantities of carbon, shelter thousands of plants and animals and are home to Indigenous peoples who sustain them. That’s why more than 100 world leaders pledged to halt deforestation by 2030 at the recent United Nations conference on climate change in Glasgow.

Many organizations and communities are working to restore native forests by reclaiming unproductive or abandoned land and carrying out costly tree-planting efforts. These efforts are designed to encourage the return of native plants and animals and to recover the ecological functions and goods that those forests once provided. But in many cases forests can recover naturally, with little or no human assistance. 

We are forest ecologists and members of a collaborative research network that studies secondary forests – those that regrow naturally after an area has been cleared and cultivated or grazed. In a newly published study in the journal Science, our group pioneers an approach to forest recovery that provides insights from over 2,200 forest plots in naturally regrowing tropical forests across the American and West African tropics. 

Our research shows that tropical forests recover surprisingly quickly: They can regrow on abandoned lands and recover many of their old-growth features, such as soil health, tree attributes and ecosystem functions, in as little as 10 to 20 years. However, to support effective forest restoration and planning, it is important to understand how quickly different forest functions and attributes recover.

Our findings show that tropical forest regrowth is an effective and low-cost, nature-based strategy for promoting sustainable developmentrestoring ecosystemsslowing climate change and protecting biodiversity. And since regrown forests in areas where the land has not been heavily damaged quickly recover many of their key attributes, forest recovery doesn’t always require planting trees.

Read more:

The abstract of the study;

Multidimensional tropical forest recovery

Lourens Poorter Dylan Craven, Catarina C. Jakovac, Masha T. van der Sande, Lucy Amissah, Frans Bongers, Robin L. Chazdon, Caroline E. Farrior, Stephan Kambach, Jorge A. Meave, Rodrigo Muñoz, Natalia Norden, Nadja Rüger, Michiel van Breugel, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano Bienvenu Amani, José Luis Andrade, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Eben N. Broadbent, Hubert de Foresta Daisy H. Dent, Géraldine Derroire, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan M. Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Alfredo C. Fantini, Bryan Finegan, Alma Hernández-Jaramillo José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Peter Hietz, André B. Junqueira, Justin Kassi N’dja Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, René López-Camacho, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Felipe P. L. Melo, Francisco Mora, Sandra C. Müller, Anny E. N’Guessan, Florian Oberleitner, Edgar Ortiz-Malavassi, Eduardo A. Pérez-García Bruno X. Pinho, Daniel Piotto, Jennifer S. Powers, Susana Rodríguez-Buriticá, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Jorge Ruíz, Marcelo Tabarelli, Heitor Mancini Teixeira, Everardo Valadares de Sá Barretto Sampaio Hans van der Wal, Pedro M. Villa, Geraldo W. Fernandes, Braulio A. Santos, José Aguilar-Cano, Jarcilene S. de Almeida-Cortez, Esteban Alvarez-Davila, Felipe Arreola-Villa Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, George A. L. Cabral, Carolina Castellanos-Castro, Ben H. J. de Jong, Jhon Edison Nieto Mário M. Espírito-Santo, Maria C. Fandino, Hernando García, Daniel García-Villalobos, Jefferson S. Hall, Alvaro Idárraga, Jaider Jiménez-Montoya, Deborah Kennard, Erika Marín-Spiotta, Rita Mesquita, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Marielos Peña-Claros, Nathalia Pérez-Cárdenas, Jorge Rodríguez-Velázquez Lucía Sanaphre Villanueva, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, Maria D. M. Veloso, Henricus F. M. Vester Ima C. G. Vieira, G. Bruce Williamson Kátia Zanini and Bruno Hérault

Resilient secondary tropical forests?

Although deforestation is rampant across the tropics, forest has a strong capacity to regrow on abandoned lands. These “secondary” forests may increasingly play important roles in biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and landscape restoration. Poorter et al. analyzed the patterns of recovery in forest attributes (related to soil, plant functioning, structure, and diversity) in 77 secondary forest sites in the Americas and West Africa. They found that different attributes recovered at different rates, with soil recovering in less than a decade and species diversity and biomass recovering in little more than a century. The authors discuss how these findings can be applied in efforts to promote forest restoration. —AMS


Tropical forests disappear rapidly because of deforestation, yet they have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned lands. We analyze how 12 forest attributes recover during secondary succession and how their recovery is interrelated using 77 sites across the tropics. Tropical forests are highly resilient to low-intensity land use; after 20 years, forest attributes attain 78% (33 to 100%) of their old-growth values. Recovery to 90% of old-growth values is fastest for soil (<1 decade) and plant functioning (<2.5 decades), intermediate for structure and species diversity (2.5 to 6 decades), and slowest for biomass and species composition (>12 decades). Network analysis shows three independent clusters of attribute recovery, related to structure, species diversity, and species composition. Secondary forests should be embraced as a low-cost, natural solution for ecosystem restoration, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity conservation.

Read more (paywalled):

People who believe logging tropical forests is a problem have never attempted to control a tropical garden during Wet Season.

The plant growth rates have to be seen to be believed. Knee high grass in one to two weeks. A weed which turns out to be a fast growing stealth Eucalypt, which grows so fast you notice one day you have a tree brushing the upstairs balcony, threatening to become unmanageable, which wasn’t there a few months ago. Thankfully I caught it before it put on bulk and became dangerously heavy, and started dropping big branches all over important stuff.

Plants which live in such regions love warm, sunny, wet weather – and tropical forests are no exception.

via Watts Up With That?

December 13, 2021 at 12:44AM

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