Environmental policy in collaboration with the University of FloridaEmerging Challenges in Tropical Science Program

ECTS 3: How can we restore tropical ecosystems ?

Is OTS Right for You?

Rationale: Restoration ecology is a rapidly expanding area of research in the tropics. A number of restoration issues can be addressed in and around OTS stations on restoration ecology. The most obvious is the design and testing of cost-effective techniques to accelerate recovery at large scales in different ecological and socio-cultural landscape contexts. Less obvious, but as important, is understanding the social aspect of restoration, and in particular the need to develop and test new techniques for participatory stakeholder engagement in restoration projects.

At OTS, scientists have studied secondary forest succession for several decades. Now, given the role of secondary succession as the motor of ecological restoration, research on secondary forests takes on new directions as the role of this forests needs to be explored in the broader context of landscape dynamics, climate and human health remains. Finally, while the focus of restoration ecology has been largely on plant communities, wildlife restoration and recovery are less well understood.

Several studies have documented declines in wildlife groups (e.g., amphibians and birds), but it is always assumed that as the forest recovers, animal diversity will recover as well, a reasonable hypothesis but one that needs testing.


Previous work on ECTS 3 at OTS research stations

Work conducted on single and mixed tree species trials, model ecosystems of different life forms, and secondary succession at La Selva Research Station, provides knowledge that can be readily applied to restoration projects.

For example, greenhouse and planting behavior of trees used in tropical plantation experiments conducted three decades ago is the basis for selecting appropriate species for lowland forest restoration.

Mechanistic studies on the early seedling, sapling, and tree regeneration in second-growth forests provide new insights for designing new ecological restoration strategies that mimic the development of secondary forests.

At Palo Verde Research Station, a long-term focus has been the restoration and maintenance of the Palo Verde Wetland and the surrounding tropical dry forest, especially concerning the effects of cattle grazing. The nearby Guanacaste National Park is the world's largest tropical dry forest restoration project.

The strongest efforts on restoration research among the three stations have taken place at the Las Cruces Research Station. Techniques to overcome barriers and accelerate succession have been tested, generating perhaps the best collection of information on mid elevation tropical forest restoration.

Furthermore, some of the older forest restoration experiments are now in their second decade and continue to provide a testbed for exploring how succession progresses over time under different initial conditions.

Examples of questions for ECTS 3: How can we restore tropical ecosystems and increase ecological value to their landscapes?

These questions are posed for inspiration, but bear no weight on prioritization of proposals. We encourage creativity in the types of questions posed in the proposals.

  • What are the minimum critical elements that need to be put into place in order to catalyze ecosystem recovery in extremely diverse tropical ecosystems?
  • Can we fully restore the patterns and quantities of delivery of tropical ecosystem services?
  • What are the most cost-effective strategies or techniques to accelerate tropical succession?
  • What are the minimum conditions to ensure that a restored ecosystem can deliver a certain service (e.g., water or carbon cycling)?
  • Is restoration based on functional traits equivalent to restoration based on target species?