Forest regeneration is focus of Mellon Foundation grant (Released: 10/15/96)
by Renu Sehgal, Office of University Communications.
STORRS, Conn. -- When a cleared patch of land reverts back to the forest, will it grow better if left alone or does it need human involvement to ensure adequate diversity and growth?
Robin L. Chazdon, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, will examine these questions and others under a $180,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
"The future is in secondary forests because old-growth forests are shrinking," Chazdon said. "How fast can the new forests come back? There is a push for reforestation, but we don't know what would happen naturally."
Before intervening, the first step is to monitor how an isolated forest grows compared to those near older forests, she said.
Through her recent research in the rain forests of Costa Rica, she has concluded that young tropical forests that have emerged after years of agricultural use have similarly diverse tree seedlings and saplings as old-growth forests. The young forests she studies grew back 15-20 years ago on land used for cattle pastures. But the species richness of trees is considerably lower in the young forests, especially in areas far from older forests, she said.
"This research will establish the first, detailed baseline information for long-term monitoring of tropical secondary forests," she said. "All current knowledge about forest regeneration in the tropics is based on research in older forests."
By establishing two monitoring plots in an area near an older forest and two other plots isolated from older forests, Chazdon will be able to study regeneration, growth and diversity changes over time. Experiments will determine factors that affect growth, including whether increasing light also increases abundance or diversity.
Since 1992, Chazdon has been studying secondary forests in Costa Rica and Panama. Two Costa Rican professors and several graduate students will collaborate on this project. Juan Dupuy, one of the graduate students, will monitor the effects of mammals and accumulated leaf litter on the growth and survival of small seedlings. Also, the abundance and diversity of seeds falling on the forest floor will be closely monitored for two years.
"This will answer the important question of how tropical forests regrow," she said. "Can nature take care of itself or does it need help?"