Since January 2001, the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the Tropical Resources Institute at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies have jointly led the Native Species Reforestation Project (PRORENA), a project directed at developing viable strategies for restoring diverse, native forest cover across the tropics. Based at STRI's facilities in Panama City, PRORENA seeks to develop solutions first in the Republic of Panama, and then to extend its impact throughout the Neotropics, and across the worldwide network of CTFS plots. PRORENA's efforts are guided by the vision of establishing diverse native forest cover across extensive areas of deforested tropical lands, and demonstrating that large-scale ecological restoration in the tropics is technically feasible, socially attractive, and financially viable.
Like most tropical nations, Panama is home to a bewildering diversity of tree species. For most species, even the most basic information necessary for their reproduction and management is lacking. A resulting paradox is that the most valuable native timber species are among those under the greatest threat of local extinction. Seed supplies are unavailable for most tree species. Since 2001, PRORENA has worked to create the information necessary to allow for the design of effective reforestation strategies, and to increase the local infrastructure and human capacities necessary to apply the results of this work.
PRORENA has initiated experimentation and field trials on more than 300 ha at nearly a dozen sites across Panama. These trials include more than 40 species, several of which appear in the literature simply with botanical descriptions and have never before been studied in a management context. However, PRORENA's most significant accomplishment has been the formation of a network of more than a dozen partner organizations dedicated to native species reforestation. These organizations worked in relative isolation before joining the Reforesters' Network, learning largely from their own experiences. PRORENA now captures the information generated by the efforts of each partner organization and makes this information widely available through seminars, reports, conference presentations, and the project website, improving the success and viability of reforestation efforts.
Systematic testing of species performance is conducted in trials replicated with a uniform design across a network of Core Research Sites covering a precipitation gradient of 1,000-2,700 mm year-1 and including a variety of soil conditions. Experimental selection trials include small plots of a total of 75 species from 38 geographically distinct populations. The selection trials involve planting a large number of species in order to select some that are most promising for each region. Within 1-3 years these trials will allow the identification of those species and populations that have the highest initial survival and growth rate both within and across sites and to consequently initiate more intensive testing of the more promising species. In addition to providing information on initial growth and survivorship, canopy morphology, and potential for biodiversity restoration for 75 poorly known species, the selection trials are located in order to maximize conservation and community impact. At two sites the trials are located on major thoroughfares, to serve as forestry demonstration plots for surrounding communities, at one site the trials are located within a deforested expanse of a National Park, and at all sites they are adjacent to existing forest fragments.
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