Restoration ecology and tropical forests
Deforestation of tropical forests is considered a global environmental problem, as extensive areas of this natural landscape in tropical countries have been transformed into agriculture or urban development. In Brazil, deforestation has degraded, damaged, or destroyed 88% of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, causing not only a great loss of biodiversity, but also a decrease in the production of forest goods and delivery of important ecosystem services such as freshwater provision.
With about 70% of the Brazilian population of 200 million people living within the Atlantic Forest and nearly 80% of Brazil’s gross domestic product coming from the region, a group formed by non-profit organizations, government agencies, research institutions, and the private sector in Brazil saw a unique opportunity to implement large-scale forest restoration in a developing country of the tropics as an economically viable practice. Accordingly, an unprecedented forest restoration initiative was launched in the country a few years ago with the goal of restoring 15 million hectares (ha) of Atlantic Forest by 2050, using native species. The purpose of the initiative was to reverse the loss of biodiversity and assist in the recovery of ecosystem services while providing economic rewards to landowners and benefits to society.
To assess restoration success, the project was accompanied by a monitoring program designed to evaluate the restored forests in terms of stability, adaptive evolution, and self-perpetuating capacity. Using data of the reforested areas, including more than 3,500 ha of restored Atlantic Forest, the objectives of this project at SESYNC are to:
- Synthesize, analyze, and evaluate floristic data collected in order to determine the state of science regarding restoration of tropical forests and identify critical knowledge gaps that need to be filled in future research.
- Synthesize and analyze an extensive dataset of monitoring restoration projects (ecological) to set reference values for ecological restoration efforts.
- Develop a collaborative research proposal with scientists from the University of Sao Paulo/ESALQ, IUCN, University of Maryland College Park, and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in order to extend the monitoring program and assess the success of the forest restoration project in Brazil in terms of supporting ecosystem functioning and the continual delivery of important ecosystem services such as water provisioning and purification.
The results of this research will be used to help guide public policies in Brazil and other developing countries, especially in the tropics.
We expect to create, in the near future, a synthesis center in Brazil modeled after SESYNC to promote socio-environmental research in the country. We hope that the Brazilian center will help expand the partnership among SESYNC, University of Sao Paulo/ESALQ, IUCN, University of Maryland College Park, and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science initiated with this project beyond its duration.