Tree planting can help tropical forests ‘recover 50% faster’ from logging


Restoring tropical forests through tree planting and selective plant removal can rapidly increase the speed at which they recover from logging, a new study says.

The research, published in Science , finds that logged tropical forests in Malaysia that were actively restored increased their ability to absorb carbon 50% faster than logged forests that were left to regenerate naturally.

Without any intervention, a tropical forest will typically take around 60 years to fully recover from a single logging event, the study estimates. With active restoration, this can be shortened to 40 years.

The findings “clearly demonstrate the value in protecting previously logged forests with respect to carbon storage, as well as for maintaining other ecosystem services and biodiversity”, the study’s lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Felled 

Around one-quarter of all of the carbon stored on land can be found in tropical forests.

But rampant deforestation is causing this carbon to be released into the atmosphere. Tropical deforestation currently accounts for around 8% of all human-caused CO2 emissions.

Avoiding further deforestation and recovering lost forest will be key to meeting the world’s aim of keeping global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. That’s according to a major report on climate change and land released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2019.

The new research looks into how humans could boost the recovery of degraded forests through active restoration. It was conducted in Sabah, Malaysia – a state on the island of Borneo that is a matrix of pristine, degraded and recovering tropical forest.

Map of primary forest (green), tree loss (pink) and gain (purple) from 2001-19 in Sabah, Malaysia. Credit: Global Forest Watch

The findings show that actively restoring forest through tree planting and selective plant removal can double the speed at which it recovers from logging, explains study lead author Dr Christopher Philipson , a forest ecologist from ETH Zurich , Switzerland and the University of Dundee , Scotland. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Areas that have undergone active restoration recovered 50% faster. If we assumed recovery to be linear, this result suggests that the reduction in carbon associated with a single logging event would be recovered to the same level as unlogged forest after 40 years with active restoration, as opposed to around 60 years if left to regenerate naturally.”

Restored

The study made use of more than 250 forest plots that were 0.83-17.45 square kilometres in size.

All of these forest plots were logged once at some point between 1972 and 1993. (Logging involves the cutting down of trees for timber production.)

From 1993 to 2004, restoration work was carried out in 35% of the plots. This involved the manual removal of...

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