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Forest restoration projects and biodiversity

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The International Day for Biological Diversity 2011: Forest Biodiversity

 

Tree genetic diversity is key to success for forest restoration projects

The importance of forests to climatic stability and biodiversity is widely understood, and reflected in the surge of interest in recent decades in large-scale forest restoration projects. The latest such plans are extremely ambitious, requiring significant levels of investment: the Bonn Challenge, for example, brings together international commitments to restore 150 million hectares of lost forests and degraded lands worldwide by 2020; Initiative 20×20 aims to restore 20 million hectares by 2020 in Latin America and India’s Green Mission aims to restore 5 million hectares.

While the potential gains from reforesting landscapes are substantial, there is a need to confront the often disappointing reality: to date, many restoration projects have achieved only limited success, or have failed completely. The reasons for this are complex and not fully understood; there has been little by way of rigorous evaluation of the success factors for restoration projects. However a review of the studies that have been conducted has revealed important insights into the effect of tree genetics on the chances of success, and offers valuable pointers for future tree planting projects.

Projects designed to return degraded land to natural forest, with associated improvements in ecological function and biodiversity, rightly focus on native tree species. The review suggests that a deeper level of ecological awareness and a more nuanced approach to tree selection than have been previously deployed could help to attain the desired outcome of resilient, self-sustaining forest ecosystems.

Writing in a special edition of the Forest Ecology & Management journal, as part of the Forest Genetic Resources series, scientists report that inadequate attention to genetic considerations in choosing planting material can have an adverse impact on outcomes.

Even native tree species can be genetically ill-matched to the environmental conditions at the restoration site if the planting material is not well chosen. This can result in a deleterious effect on the trees’ growth, potential for survival and reproductive success.

Read the full story: Bioversity International

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.