Biodiversity and recovery of tropical forests across the globe

The aim of PANTROP is to understand the mechanisms underlying tropical forests’ resilience to human disturbance, hereby looking at the effects of biogeography, climate, landscape and biodiversity on forest recovery.

Tropical forests play a key role in global biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation; they harbour half of the global biodiversity, account for 35% of terrestrial productivity and recycle a large share of rainfall. Most research and policy have focused on monitoring and conserving old-growth forests that are in relatively stable state. Yet, the current Anthropocene has led to unprecedented rates of 1) climate change, 2) land use change and landscape degradation, and 3) biodiversity loss. What is the potential of these forests to recover from these anthropogenic disturbances?

Currently, over half of the world’s tropical forests are not old-growth forests, but highly dynamic, naturally regenerating forests that recover after selective logging, clear cut, or other types of disturbance. The capacity of ecosystems to absorb disturbance without shifting to alternative stable states is called resilience. For example, clearcut forests are considered resilient because they have the capacity to grow back naturally.

This study focuses on secondary forests (SF) that regrow after removal of forest cover for food production, namely agriculture and cattle ranching. SF play a key role in human-modified tropical landscapes as they often are the only natural vegetation left, but SF have –surprisingly- largely been ignored by scientists and policy makers. This study aims at understanding the mechanisms underlying tropical forests resilience to human disturbance by analysing the effects of 1) biogeography (continents), 2) climate, 3) landscape context, and 4) biodiversity on forest recovery rate. This is done by taking a pantropical approach, using dry and wet forests as a natural laboratory to understand climate change, using a landscape forest cover gradient to understand the role of landscape degradation, and conducting a biodiversity removal experiment to understand the role of biodiversity loss.