Restoring tropical forests:
Is planting clusters of trees a cost-effective and ecologically-sound strategy to restore tropical forest?
A major conservation challenge is how to restore the large areas of tropical forest that have been deforested.
Over the past decade, there have been a growing number of commitments at the global, national and regional scale to restore forests because of their importance to conserve biodiversity, sequester carbon, reduce erosion, and provide goods and services to people. A common strategy to restore forests is to plant trees. But, an important question is how to plant trees in an ecologically-appropriate and cost-effective way.
Nearly two decades ago we started a multi-site study in southern Costa Rica to compare the efficacy of tropical forest restoration strategies, including natural forest regeneration (allowing the site to recover without planting trees), plantation-style tree planting, and applied nucleation (planting clusters of trees to help increase the rate of natural regeneration). In this module designed for upper-level college students with some background in ecology, we outline the obstacles to tropical forest restoration. We then compare the ecological and social outcomes of the three forest restoration strategies. Finally, we ask students to consider what ecological and social conditions are best suited to using an applied nucleation forest restoration strategy.