Tropical forests continue to vanish rapidly, but few long-term studies have ever examined if and how the lost forests can be restored. Based on a 45-year restoration study in south China, we found that a tropical rain forest, once completely destroyed, could not recover naturally without deliberate restoration efforts. We identified two kinds of thresholds that must be overcome with human ameliorative measures before the ecosystem was able to recover. The first threshold was imposed primarily by extreme physical conditions such as exceedingly high surface temperature and impoverished soil, while the second was characterized by a critical level of biodiversity and a landscape context that accommodates dispersal and colonization processes. Our three treatment catchments (un-restored barren land, single-species plantation, and mixed-forest stand) exhibited dramatically different changes in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning over 4 decades. The mixed forest, having the highest level of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, possesses several major properties of tropical rain forest. These findings may have important implications for the restoration of many severely degraded or lost tropical forest ecosystems.
- Biodiversity conservation
- Ecosystem functioning
- Rainforest restoration
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Environmental Science(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)