Efforts to help forests recover from deforestation today have focused on increasing the number of trees. However, a new study has discovered a powerful engine for forest recovery: animals.

The study was conducted by an international team from the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, the Yale School of the Environment, the New York Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which examined regenerating forests in central Panama that have between 20 and 100 years of abandonment.

The unique set of data gathered revealed that animals, by bringing a wide variety of seeds to deforested areas, are key to the recovery of tree species richness and abundance to old growth levels after only 40 to 70 years of growth. new outbreak.

The article, published in Philosophical Transactions, of the Royal Society B, is part of a thematic edition focused on the recovery of the forest landscape as part of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Animals are our best allies in reforestationsaid Daisy Dent, one of the paper’s lead authors. Our study prompts a rethinking of recovery efforts to be about more than establishing plant communities.

The work also notes that locating regenerating forests close to patches of old growth and reducing hunting encourages animals to colonize and settle. We show that considering the broader ecosystem, as well as landscape features, enhances restoration efforts.said Sergio Estrada-Villegas, of the Universidad del Rosario, in Bogotá, Colombia, and another of the study’s authors.

Required, reset interactions

Seed dispersal by animals is key to forest expansion. In the tropics, more than 80 percent of the tree species can be spread by them. Despite this, forest recovery efforts continue to focus on increasing tree cover rather than restoring animal-plant interactions that support ecosystem function. Finding out how fauna contribute to reforestation is difficult because you need detailed information about which ones eat which plants.he stressed.

The forest of the Barro Colorado Natural Monument, in the Panama Canal, offers a unique solution to the problem. In one of the world’s best-studied tropical forests, generations of scientists have documented frugivore interactions to understand which animal groups disperse which tree species.

In the present study, the team examined data to determine the proportion of plants dispersed by four groups of animals (flightless mammals, large and small birds, as well as bats) and how this proportion changed over a century of natural restoration.

Most studies examine the first 30 years of succession, but our data, spanning 100 years, give us a rare insight into what happens in the restoration phase.Dent added.

The study found that most of the plants were dispersed by terrestrial mammals throughout all ages of the forest, from 20 years to old age.

This result is quite unusual for post-agricultural regenerating forests.Dent highlighted. It is likely that the presence of large tracts of preserved forest near our secondary stands, coupled with low hunting, has allowed mammal populations to thrive and bring an influx of seeds from neighboring patches..

Estrada-Villegas concluded: We hope this information helps practitioners to structure their restoration practices by allowing frugivorous species to assist in the restoration process and speed up forest recovery..

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