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  • Restoring Tropical Forests: A Practical Guide by Stephen Elliott, David Blakesley and Kate Hardwick
  • Robin Chazdon (bio)
Restoring Tropical Forests: A Practical Guide Stephen Elliott, David Blakesley and Kate Hardwick. 2014. Richmond, Surrey, U.K.: Kew Publishing. $52.00 paperback. ISBN: 978-1842464427. 344 pages.

The decline of tropical forests worldwide has put planetary life support systems at risk. At local and national scales, deforestation and forest degradation have impoverished local communities, reduced critical ecosystem services, and virtually eliminated suitable habitat for forest-dependent plant and animal species. An estimated 150 million hectares of disturbed and degraded land in the tropics were identified as opportunities for forest restoration at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 (Menz et al. 2013). For those living and working in the tropics, the urgent need for restoring forest areas in the tropics was recognized over 20 years ago. In 1994, the Forest Restoration Unit of Chiang Mai University (FORRU-CMU) was established by Dr. Stephen Elliott to investigate methods to restore tropical forest ecosystems in northern Thailand. Based on the conceptual and technical approaches developed by FORRU-CMU, Elliott and co-authors Blakesley and Hardwick have assembled the definitive how-to guide on restoration of degraded tropical ecosystems. Introductory chapters of Restoring Tropical Forests summarize basic information on tropical forest ecology, regeneration, and causes and consequences of deforestation. Thereafter, the book takes a practical management approach, providing detailed and clear guidelines on how to diagnose the state of forest degradation, define restoration objectives, and select appropriate restoration methods. Four chapters provide step-by-step instructions on how to select suitable local native tree species for planting, collect and germinate seeds, build a nursery, establish restoration plantations, control weeds, and how to monitor phenology, growth, and biodiversity in restoration plots. Many of the detailed protocols are based on technical manuals developed by FORRU-CMU’s outreach programs. Particular attention is focused on the framework species method, first developed in wet tropical forests of North Queensland, Australia (Goosem and Tucker 1995). The final chapter describes how to establish a Forest Restoration Research Unit with the capacity to conduct locally relevant research involving stakeholders and community groups, train local technicians, and provide outreach to local communities.

The authors summarize over 20 years of research and field experience in an accessible and well-illustrated volume. Six case studies provide specific examples of successful restoration projects conducted throughout the world. Text boxes in each chapter highlight a wide range of conceptual and applied topics including classification of tropical forests, maximum diversity approaches to restoration, and nursery production schedules. The section of Chapter 7 on Monitoring Restoration Progress is particularly noteworthy, as many restoration projects have lacked a protocol for monitoring ecological, economic, and social outcomes. The text is directed toward restoration practitioners and students, rather than to researchers in restoration ecology or forestry. A major goal of the book is to replicate the successes that they have had in the seasonally dry region of northern Thailand. In this regard, it would be useful to include a section on “lessons learned” so that other restoration projects could become more aware of potential problems that could compromise their short- or long-term success. Although the book is intended as a practical guide, it is important to recognize that although prescriptions are the first step toward recovering functionality of forests, adaptive management will always be needed to ensure a promising future for restored forests.

Restoring Tropical Forests signals a watershed event in the history of tropical forest restoration. The book clearly demonstrates that it is possible to restore tropical forests, to empower local communities to become active participants in creating, managing, and monitoring new forest ecosystems that will provide sources of timber and non-timber products and habitats for wildlife. Expert knowledge and decades of field experience are carefully packaged and delivered in clear and well-organized text, figures, and tables. Now, the even more daunting task is to make the case to funding agencies, policy makers, and non-governmental organizations that tropical forest restoration is imperative. The issue is not whether to restore forests, but how and where. It is essential to view any tropical forest restoration project as a...


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