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Not all forests are created equal: Tree species composition in primary, unplanted secondary, and communally restored cloud forests in northwest Andean Ecuador

Tuesday, 25 June 2013: 08:00
La Paz - B East (Herradura San Jose)
Sarah Jane Wilson , Geography, McGill University, Canada
Oliver T Coomes , Geography, McGill University, Canada
The number of community based, tropical forest-restoration projects has increased dramatically in the past decade. In coming years, as high deforestation rates coincide with increasing demand for forest ecosystem services, such projects will become even more common. Many of these projects are taking place in Andean cloud forests, which, given their megabiodiversity and alarming rate of disappearance, are understudied. My research investigates: 1) The efficacy of simple community reforestation methods to restore cloud forest tree-species composition and diversity; and 2) How local people’s tree use and preferences affect the initial species composition of restored forests. This study takes place in Northwest Andean Ecuador, a region where only 10% of the original cloud forests remain, in five communities with community-based restoration projects.  In 2011, we identified all woody plant species along transects (0.1 ha per site) in restored forests (n=5), in neighboring naturally regenerating forests (n=5), and in five nearby primary forests. We also surveyed 120 households regarding forest use and tree preferences. Results show that tree diversity was higher in restored than in naturally regenerating forest; however, both were less diverse than primary forests (analyzed using rarefaction curves). Ordination analysis showed that all three forests had distinct species compositions, although restored forests shared more species with primary forests than did naturally regenerating forest. People planted 50+ native tree species to restore forest, and restored forests contained the highest proportion of ‘useful’ species. Thus, while restoring forest increased biodiversity, restored forests may represent a ‘novel ecosystem’ that is both distinct from the region’s previous ecosystems and, because of its usefulness to people, more likely to occur in future. These results help us understand how – and how well – community restoration projects are working to conserve cloud forest biodiversity, information essential to improving the outcomes of future restoration projects.