Landscape Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 601–618 | Cite as

Tropical forest regeneration following land abandonment is driven by primary rainforest distribution in an old pastoral region

  • Sean Sloan
  • Miriam Goosem
  • Susan G. Laurance
Research Article



Tropical forest regeneration is increasingly prominent as agro-pastoral lands are abandoned. Regeneration is characterised as favouring ‘marginal’ lands; however, observations of its drivers are often coarse or simple, leaving doubt as to spatial dynamics and causation.


We quantified the spatial dynamics of forest regeneration relative to marginality and remnant forest cover in a 3000 km2 pastoral region in northern tropical Australia.


Classification and regression trees related the extent and distribution of regeneration to soil agricultural potential, land-cover history, terrain slope, distance to primary forest, and primary forest fragment size, as defined by aerial photography.


Secondary forest extent and distribution overwhelmingly reflect the proximity and size of primary forest fragments. Some 85 % of secondary forest area occurs <1 km of primary forest, and 86 % of secondary forest patches >50 ha are <400 m from primary forest and coincident with historic primary forest fragments. Where primary forest fragments are >8.5 ha, secondary forest area declines less rapidly with increasing distance from primary forest up to 1.5 km. Marginality inferred by soil potential and slope had no bearing on regeneration, except at the coarsest of spatial scales where regeneration is a proxy for primary forest cover.


Findings underline the need to conserve even modest rainforest patches as propagule reservoirs enabling regeneration. Marginality per se may have a limited role in regeneration. As most secondary forest was an extension of primary forest, its unique conservation value relative to that of primary forest may likewise merit reconsideration.


Reforestation Regeneration Succession Forest transition Marginal Abandonment Remnant forest Recruitment Biodiversity 



Sean Sloan is supported by an ARC Laureate Fellowship awarded to William Laurance. This research was supported by ARC Linkage Grant (LP110201093) and the Linkage Partners: The CATER Program of The Queensland Herbarium, BIOME5 Pty Ltd., and The Wet Tropics Management Authority.

Supplementary material

10980_2015_267_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (docx 2494 kb)


  1. Aide TM, Clark ML, Grau HR et al (2013) Deforestation and reforestation of Latin America and the Caribbean (2001–2010). Biotropica 45(2):262–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angelsen A (2007) Forest cover change in space and time: combining the von Thünen and forest transition theories. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, no. 4117. World Bank, Washington, D.CGoogle Scholar
  3. Arroyo-Mora JP, Sánchez-Azofeifa A, Rivard B, Calvo JC, Janzen DH (2005) Dynamics in landscape structure and composition for the Chorotega region, Costa Rica, from 1960 to 2000. Agric Ecosyst Environ 106:27–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asner GP, Rudel TK, Aide TM, DeFries R, Emerson R (2009) A contemporary asssessment of global humid tropical forest change. Conserv Biol 23(6):1386–1395CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Baptista SR, Rudel TK (2006) A re-emerging Atlantic forest? Urbanization, industralization and the forest-transition in Santa Catarina, southern Brazil. Environ Conserv 33(3):195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barlow J, Gardner TA, Araujo IS et al (2007) Quantifying the biodiversity value of tropical primary, secondary, and plantation forests. Proc Natl Acad Sci 104(47):18555–18560PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Berk RA (2008) Statistical learning from a regression perspective. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Biggs D, De Ville B, Suen E (1991) A method of choosing multiway partitions for classification and decision trees. J Appl Stat 18(1):49–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brancalion PHS, Melo FPL, Tabarelli M, Rodrigues RR (2013) Restoration reserves as biodiversity safeguards in human-modified landscapes. Natureza & Conservação 11(2):186–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Breiman L, Friedman JH, Olshen RA, Stone CJ (1984) Classification and regression trees. Wadsworth, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  11. Broadbent EN, Asner GP, Keller M, Knapp DE, Oliveira PJC, Silva JN (2008) Forest fragmentation and edge effects from deforestation and selective logging in the Brazilian Amazon. Biol Conserv 141:1745–1757CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown S, Lugo AE (1990) Tropical secondary forests. J Trop Ecol 6(1):1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chai SL, Tanner E (2011) 150-year legacy of land use on tree species composition in old-secondary forests of Jamaica. J Ecol 99(1):113–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chazdon RL (2003) Tropical forest recovery: legacies of human impact and natural disturbances. Perspect Plant Ecol Evol Syst 6:51–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chazdon RL (2014) Second growth: the promise of tropical forest regeneration in an age of deforestation. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chazdon RL, Harvey CA, Komar O et al (2009a) Beyond reserves: a research agenda for conserving biodiversity in human-modified tropical landscapes. Biotropica 41(2):142–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chazdon RL, Peres CA, Dent D et al (2009b) The potential for species conservation in tropical secondary forests. Conserv Biol 23(6):1406–1417CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Crk T, Uriarte M, Corsi F, Flynn D (2009) Forest recovery in a tropical landscape: what is the relative importance of biophysical, socioeconomic, and landscape variables? Landscape Ecol 24(5):629–642CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dent DH, Wright JS (2009) The future of tropical species in secondary forests: a quantitative review. Biol Conserv 142(12):2833–2843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Departmen of Primary Industries (1993) Planning guidelines: the identification of good quality agricultural land. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries and The Queensland Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  21. DNRM (2006) 25 m digital elevation model derived from ANUDEM v4.6.2. Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM), Brisbane, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  22. Endress BA, Chinea JD (2001) Landscape patterns of tropical forest recovery in the Republic of Palau. Biotropica 33(4):555–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Etter A, McAlpine C, Pullar D, Possingham H (2005) Modeling the age of tropical moist forest fragments in heavily-cleared lowland landscapes of Colombia. For Ecol Manage 208(1):249–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. FAO (2010) Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010: Main Report. FAO Forestry Paper 163. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  25. Foody GM (2004) Spatial nonstationarity and scale-dependency in the relationship between species richness and environmental determinants for the sub-Saharan endemic avifauna. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 13(4):315–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Foody GM (2005) Clarifications on local and global data analysis. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 14(1):99–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Frawley KJ (1987) The Maalan Group Settlement in North Queensland, 1954: A Historical Geography. No. 2. Department of Geography and Oceanography Monograph Series, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  28. Freitas SR, Hawbaker TJ, Metzger JP (2010) Effects of roads, topography, and land use on forest cover dynamics in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. For Ecol Manag 259(3):410–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gardner TA, Barlow J, Chazdon R et al (2009) Prospects for tropical forest biodiversity in a human-modified world. Ecol Lett 12(6):561–582CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Gardner TA, Barlow J, Parry LW, Peres CA (2007) Predicting the uncertain future of tropical forest species in a data vacuum. Biotropica 39(1):25–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gibson L, Lee TM, Koh LP et al (2011) Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity. Nature 478(7369):378–381CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Gibson L, Lynam AJ, Bradshaw CJA et al (2013) Near-complete extinction of native small mammal fauna 25 years after forest fragmentation. Science 341(6153):1508–1510CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Gilmore MA (2005) Kill, cure, or strangle: the history of government intervention in three key agricultural industries on the Atherton Tablelands, 1895–2005. PhD Dissertation, James Cook UniversityGoogle Scholar
  34. Goosem M, Paz C, Preece N, Goosem S, Laurance SGW (In Review) Delayed recovery of species diversity and community composition in secondary forests in tropical Australia. J Veg SciGoogle Scholar
  35. Hansen MC, Potapov PV, Moore R et al (2013) High-resolution global maps of 21st-century forest cover change. Science 342(6160):850–853CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Harvey CA, Komar O, Chazdon R et al (2008) Integrating agricultural landscapes with biodiversity conservation in the mesoamerican hotspot. Conserv Biol 22(1):8–15CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hecht SB, Saatchi SS (2007) Globalization and forest resurgence: changes in forest cover in El Salvador. Bioscience 57(8):663–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Helmer E, Brandeis TJ, Lugo AE, Kennaway T (2008) Factors influencing spatial pattern in tropical forest clearance and stand age: Implications for carbon storage and species diversity. J Geophys Res 113:G02S04Google Scholar
  39. Helmer EH (2000) The landscape ecology of tropical secondary forest in montane Costa Rica. Ecosystems 3(1):98–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Holl KD (1999) Factors limiting tropical rain forest regeneration in abandoned pasture: seed rain, seed germination, microclimate, and soil1. Biotropica 31(2):229–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jacoby WG (2000) Loess: a non-parametric, graphical tool for depicting relationships between variables. Electoral Stud 19:577–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kauano EE, Cardoso FCG, Torezan JMD, Marques MCM (2013) Micro- and meso-scale factors affect the restoration of Atlantic Forest. Natureza & Conservação 11(2):145–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laffan MD (1988) Soils and Land Use on the Atherton Tableland, North Queensland. CSIRO Division of SoilsGoogle Scholar
  44. Laurance SG, Laurance WF (1999) Tropical wildlife corridors: use of linear rainforest remnants by arboreal mammals. Biol Conserv 91:231–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Laurance WF (2007) Have we overstated the biodiversity crisis? Trends Ecol Evol 22(2):65–70CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Laurance WF, Delamonica P, Laurance SG, Vasconcelos HL, Lovejoy TE (2000) Conservation: rainforest fragmentation kills big trees. Nature 404(6780):836–836CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Laurance WF, Laurance SG, Ferreira LV, Rankin-de Merona J, Gascon C, Lovejoy TE (1997) Biomass collapse in Amazonian forest fragments. Science 278:1117–1118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Laurance WF, Lovejoy TE, Vasconcelos HL et al (2002) Ecoystem decay of Amazonian forest fragments: a 22-year investigation. Conserv Biol 16:605–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Laurance WF, Nascimento HE, Laurance SG et al (2006) Rapid decay of tree-community composition in Amazonian forest fragments. Proc Natl Acad Sci 103(50):19010–19014PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Letcher SG, Chazdon R (2009) Rapid recovery of woody biomass, species richness, and species composition in a forest chronosequence in northeastern Costa Rica. Biotropica 41:608–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Loh WY (2011) Classification and regression trees. WIREs Data Mining Knowl Discov 1:14–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lugo A (2002) Can we manage tropical landscapes? An answer from the Caribbean perspective. Landscape Ecol 17(7):601–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. MacArthur RH, Wilson EO (1967) The theory of island biogeography. Princeton University Press Monographs in Population Biology 1(202)Google Scholar
  54. Malcolm DT, Nagel BKA, Sinclair I, Heiner IJ (1999) Soils and agricultural land suitability of the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland. DNRQ980091. Land Resources Bulletin. Department of Natural Resources, Queensland Government, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  55. Mather AS, Needle CL (1998) The forest transition: a theoretical basis. Area 30(2):117–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McDonald RC, Isbell RF, Speight JG, Walker J, Hopkins MS (1990) Australian soil and land survey field handbook. Inkata Press, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  57. McNamara S, Erskine PD, Lamb D, Chantalangsy L, Boyle S (2012) Primary tree species diversity in secondary fallow forests of Laos. For Ecol Manage 281:93–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Meyfroidt P, Lambin EF (2011) Global forest transition: prospects for an end to deforestation. Ann Rev Environ Resour 36(9):9.1–9.29Google Scholar
  59. Moisen GG (2008) Classification and regression trees. Ecol Inf 1:582–588Google Scholar
  60. Muñoz J, Felicísimo ÁM (2004) Comparison of statistical methods commonly used in predictive modelling. J Veg Sci 15(2):285–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pereira LCSM, Oliveira CCC, Torezan JD (2013) Woody species regeneration in Atlantic Forest restoration sites depends on surrounding landscape. Natureza & Conservação 11(2):138–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Perz SG, Skole DL (2003a) Secondary forest expansion in the Brazilian Amazon and the refinement of the forest transition theory. Soc Nat Resour 16:227–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Perz SG, Skole DL (2003b) Social determinants of secondary forests in the Brazilian Amazon. Soc Sci Res 32:25–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pontius R Jr, Millones M (2011) Death to kappa: birth of quanity disagreement and allocation disagreement for accuracy assessment. Int J Remote Sens 32(11):4407–4429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Preston D (1998) Post-peasant captialist graziers: the 21st century in Southern Bolivia. Mt Res Dev 18(2):151–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Redo DJ, Aide TM, Clark ML (2012) The relative importance of socioeconomic and environmental variables in explaining land change in Bolivia, 2001–2010. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 102(4):778–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Reid RE (1988) Soil survey specifications. In: Gunn RH, Beattie JA, Reid RE, van de Graff R (eds) Australian soil and land survey handbook: guidelines for conducting survey. Inkata Press, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  68. Rudel TK (2005) Tropical forests: regional paths of destruction and regeneration in the late twentieth century. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  69. Rudel TK (2012) The human ecology of regrowth in the tropics. J Sustain For 31(4–5):340–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rudel TK, DeFries R, Asner GP, Laurance WF (2009) Changing drivers of deforestation and new opportunities for conservation. Conserv Biol 23(6):1396–1405CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Rudel TK, Perz-Lugo M, Zichal H (2000) When fields revert to forests: development and spontaneous reforestation in post-war Puerto Rico. Prof Geogr 52(3):386–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sloan S (2011) Forest regeneration in Panama, 1980-2008: The forest transition and REDD+. PhD Thesis, The University of MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  73. Sloan S (2015) Development-driven recovery of tropical forests: the tropical forest transition with implications for REDD+. Ecol Econ 116(August):1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sloan S, Pelletier J (2012) How accurately may we project tropical forest-cover change? A validation of a forward-looking baseline for REDD. Glob Environ Change 22(2):440–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Statham A (1998) Cows in the vine scrub: a history of dairying on the Atherton Tableland. Malanda Dairyfoods, MalandaGoogle Scholar
  76. Thomlinson JR, Serrano MI, Lopez TdM, Aide TM, Zimmerman JK (1996) Land-use dynamics in a post-agricultural Puerto Rican landscape (1936–1988). Biotropica 28:525–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Timms B, Hayes JJ, McCracken M (2012) From deforestation to reforestation in the Cockpit County, Jamaica: beginning of a forest transition? Area 45(1):77–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tracey JG (1987) The vegetation of the humid tropical region of North Queensland. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  79. Turner IM, Corlett RT (1996) The conservation value of small, isolated fragments of lowland tropical rain forest. Trends Ecol Evol 11(8):330–334CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Uhl C, Buschbacher R, Serrao EAS (1988) Abandoned pasture in Eastern Amazonia I: patterns of plant succession. J Ecol 76(3):663–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. van Breugel M, Hall JS, Craven D et al (2013) Succession of ephemeral secondary forests and their limited role for the conservation of floristic diversity in a human-modified tropical landscape. PLoS ONE 8(12):e82433PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Williams M (2003) Deforesting the earth: from prehistory to global crisis, unabridged edn. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  83. Willmott WF, Stephenson PJ (1989) Rocks and landscapes of the Cairns District. Queensland Department of Mines, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  84. Winter JW, Bell F, Pahl L, Atherton R (1987) Rainforest clear-felling in northeastern Australia. Proc Ecol Soc Queensl 98:41–57Google Scholar
  85. Witten IH, Frank E (2005) Data Mining: Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques. Morgan Kaufmann, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  86. Wright J, Samaniego M (2008) Historical, demographic and economic correlates of land use change in the Republic of Panama. Ecol Soc 13(2):Article 17Google Scholar
  87. Wright JS, Muller-Landau HC (2006) The future of tropical forest species. Biotropica 38(3):1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wrigley N, Holt T, Steel D, Tranmer M (1996) Analysing, modelling and resolving the ecological fallacy. In: Longley P, Batty M (eds) Spatial analysis: modelling in a GIS environment. Wiley, New York, pp 25–40Google Scholar
  89. WTMA (2009) (2008) Vegetation of the wet tropics of Queensland. ca. Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Cairns, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  90. Wu X, Kumar V, Ross Quinlan J et al (2008) Top 10 algorithms in data mining. Knowl Inf Syst 14(1):1–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Yeo WLJ, Fensham RJ (2014) Will Acacia secondary forest become rainforest in the Australian Wet Tropics? For Ecol Manag 331:208–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia

Personalised recommendations