Author: Jesse Greenspan
Conservationists who work to save rain forests typically focus on pristine stands—the dwindling number of patches where the buzz of chainsaws has yet to echo. But even clear-cut land may warrant protection. Mounting evidence shows that, under the right circumstances, heavily logged tracts can regrow to host nearly as much biodiversity as unspoiled Amazonian wilderness.
A study published in March in Tropical Conservation Science offers the latest look at the biological value of so-called secondary forests. An international team of ecologists and volunteers spent a year and a half identifying every bird, amphibian, reptile and medium-to-large mammal they could find on some 800 recovering hectares within Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their final count of 570 species amounted to 87 percent of those known to exist in neighboring old-growth, or primary, forests and included many imperiled creatures, such as shorteared dogs and giant armadillos. The team even found what could be new frog species.
The Manu study area represents a “best-case scenario” for secondary forest biodiversity, says Andrew Whitworth of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, who conducted the study in partnership with the Peruvian nonprofit Crees Foundation. Success is more likely at Manu because a longtime hunting and logging ban is in place, and animals can easily wander in from the extensive old-growth zones nearby.