Neotropical rainforest restoration: comparing passive, plantation and nucleation approaches

Abstract

Neotropical rainforests are global biodiversity hotspots and are challenging to restore. A core part of this challenge is the very long recovery trajectory of the system: recovery of structure can take 20–190 years, species composition 60–500 years, and reestablishment of rare/endemic species thousands of years. Passive recovery may be fraught with instances of arrested succession, disclimax or emergence of novel ecosystems. In these cases, active restoration methods are essential to speed recovery and set a desired restoration trajectory. Tree plantation is the most common active approach to reestablish a high density of native tree species and facilitate understory regeneration. While this approach may speed the successional trajectory, it may not achieve, and possibly inhibit, a long-term restoration trajectory towards the high species diversity characteristic of these forests. A range of nucleation techniques (e.g., tree island planting) are important restoration options: although they may not speed recovery of structure as quickly as plantations, their emphasis on natural regeneration processes may enable greater and more natural patterns of diversity to develop. While more work needs to be done to compare forest restoration techniques in different environmental contexts, it appears that nucleation and, at times, passive restoration may best preserve the diverse legacy of these forested systems (both with lower costs). An integrated approach using both plantation productivity but also the natural functions associated with nucleation may develop composition and diversity trajectory desired in Neotropical conservation efforts.

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Acknowledgments

We are especially grateful to Karen Holl who greatly improved the paper. We thank Richard Hobbs, Alexandre Buttler, Lauren Hallett, Dylan Chapple, Joan Dudney and Rapichan Phurisamban for helpful comments. F.C. Bechara Postdoctoral Scholarship was supported by CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Ensino Superior; “Programa Ciência sem Fronteiras” #2551/13-6) and Fundação Araucária de Apoio Científico e Tecnológico do Paraná. E. Farrer was supported by a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship #2012-67012-19840. L. Larios was supported by the NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology Award #1309014, and P. Mariotte by the Swiss NSF Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship #PBELP 3146538.

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Communicated by Peter Ashton.

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Bechara, F.C., Dickens, S.J., Farrer, E.C. et al. Neotropical rainforest restoration: comparing passive, plantation and nucleation approaches. Biodivers Conserv 25, 2021–2034 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1186-7

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Keywords

  • Tropical forest
  • Biodiversity
  • Succession
  • Assembly
  • Regeneration