In 1973, a group of tropical ecologists gathered at Turrialba, Costa Rica, for a workshop to assess the knowledge of tropical forest ecology, and to make recommendations for future study. The proceedings were published in a volume entitled Fragile Ecosystems (Farnworth and Golley 1974). The book was called Fragile Ecosystems because many ecologists with experience in low latitudes suspected that tropical forests, especially rain forests, were particularly susceptible to disturbance. Recovery following activities such as logging and shifting cultivation was thought to be slower and more difficult than recovery of temperate zone forests. If, in fact, this were the case, it would have important implications for management of tropical forests. However, at the time, there was very little evidence that tropical forests were especially "fragile".
In the intervening years, hundreds if not thousands of studies were published on rain forest ecology. Many have bearing on the question of whether tropical forests are more easily damaged than temperate forests and, if so, why. This question is particularly important for forest management, since tropical forest management is often carried out with methods developed for temperate zone forests. The purpose of this book is to bring together evidence that bears on the question of the uniqueness of tropical ecosystems, and to examine what this evidence means for the management of tropical forests in a way that does not diminish the ecosystem's ability to maintain its structure and function.
Chapter 1 of this book reviews the values of tropical forests, both commercial and non-market values, that will disappear if tropical forests become extinct. To ensure that these values are not lost, we must make sure that tropical forests themselves are perpetuated.
In order to develop approaches to forest management that will promote forest survival, it is necessary to understand the characteristics of tropical forests that are important for maintaining their structure and function. Especially important is how tropical forests differ from temperate forests, since forest management techniques developed in the temperate zone may not be appropriate for the tropics. Chapter 2 describes these ecological characteristics.
Chapter 3 reviews several schemes of classification. Classification of tropical forests can be important in determining management plans. There are many ways to classify tropical forests, but most are based either on climate or on stand structure. The problem is that within one climatic zone, there can be a variety of forest functions. Also, forests with similar structures can function differently. Because function is not taken into account, many traditional classification schemes are not useful at the stand level. Chapter 3 proposes other approaches that may complement the traditional classifications.
Social and economic factors usually play a more important role in management decisions than do ecological factors, and it is the social and economic pressures that are driving tropical deforestation. In Chapter 4 we examine the proximate and the underlying causes of deforestation, and its effects on the environment and on human populations.
Chapter 5 shows how the understanding of tropical forest ecology, together with considerations of local economy and culture can be applied to sustainable forest management. Methods of forest management are discussed, along with their effects on biodiversity.
Chapter 6 examines the multiple roles of plantation forestry: production of timber and fuelwood; a tool for development; and preserving or recovering biodiversity. Agroforestry systems are also put forward as an alternative to reconcile production with conservation and social needs. Plantation forestry, agroforestry, and other techniques are also presented as tools to aid in restoration of degraded forests and degraded agricultural and pasture lands.
Chapter 7 contrasts the impact of decisions made at the regional, national, and international levels with those made locally on sustainability of the forest. The top-down approach to development is contrasted with bottom-up approaches. Case studies where community forestry has been successful at implementing sustainable forest management are presented. Finally, Chapter 8 synthesizes what we have learned, and how that knowledge can be applied to future management decisions.
F. Montagnini C. F. Jordan
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