ReForLan


Restoration of Forest Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development in the Drylands of Latin America (ReForLan)

Introduction

The processes of economic development and population growth are increasing pressure on natural resources, leading to widespread ecological degradation. These problems are most intense in arid and semi-arid areas, which together cover nearly 30% of the earth’s surface and comprise half the surface area of the world’s developing countries. Despite their aridity, dryland areas are of global importance for biodiversity, being the centres of origin for many agricultural crops and other economically important species. Rural communities in dryland areas are often highly dependent on forest resources to support their livelihoods, particularly fuelwood and fodder. However, in many areas dryland forests have been subjected to unsustainable land use practices, including expansion of rangeland for livestock, overharvesting (particularly for fuelwood), conversion to agriculture and rapid growth of urban settlements. These processes have resulted in the widespread deforestation and degradation of dryland forest ecosystems, which has resulted in negative impacts on biodiversity, soil fertility and water availability, and on the livelihoods of local people. Such degradation presents a major challenge to policy initiatives aiming to support sustainable development. Restoration of dryland forest ecosystems is therefore an urgent priority if such policy goals are to be achieved, yet this issue has largely been neglected by the scientific research community. The key question to be addressed by this project is: how may dryland forest ecosystems be restored in a way that both benefits biodiversity and supports the livelihoods of local people?

Research Sites

The research focuses on seven dryland areas where native forests have been subjected to intense human pressure in recent decades, resulting in severe deforestation and degradation. Each of these areas is characterised by high biodiversity of international conservation importance, with many endemic, threatened species. These areas are also characterised by the presence of substantial and increasing rural populations, often including indigenous communities, who rely on native forest resources for provision of a number of forest products. The sustainable management of forest resources in these areas is therefore of key importance to the livelihood of local communities. Although the processes of forest degradation in these areas are very similar, the socio-economic and policy context varies, providing scope for comparative analysis.

The seven target areas are:

1. Chiapas, Mexico
2. Central Veracruz, Mexico
3. Oaxaca, Mexico
4. Central Valley, Central Chile
5. Coastal range, Central Chile
6. Northwestern Argentina
7. Southwestern Argentina

General Objective

To identify and promote approaches for the sustainable management of arid and semi-arid forest ecosystems, by researching ecosystem restoration techniques using native species of economic value. This aim will be achieved through a programme of multi-disciplinary research analyzing how restoration of degraded lands can be achieved in a way that will mitigate the effects of unsustainable land use practices and contribute to conservation of biodiversity. The research will generate tools for the sustainable development of native forest landscapes by local communities and other stakeholders, in a form that can directly support management decision-making and policy development, including information systems, decision support tools, criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management and restoration. Management plans, practical guidelines and policy recommendations will be produced to support restoration of dryland forests, in ways that support the development of rural livelihoods according to the ecosystem approach.

Specific Scientific and Technical Objectives:

1. To assess the current and historical distribution of dryland forest ecosystems in each of the seven study areas in Mexico and southern South America, by analysis of satellite remote sensing data; to define the potential area of dryland forest ecosystems in each of the study areas through the use of historical information, and through statistical modelling approaches using Geographical Information Systems (GIS); to analyse the relationship between forest loss in each of the study areas in relation to environmental and socio-economic variables using statistical modelling approaches and GIS, enabling the different factors responsible for forest loss to be identified.

2. To assess the pattern and extent of fragmentation of dryland forest ecosystems in each of the seven study areas using spatial analysis and GIS techniques; to determine the degree of dryland forest degradation using analysis of satellite remote sensing data supported by field surveys; to analyse the relationship between forest fragmentation and degradation in each of the study areas in relation to environmental and socio-economic variables using statistical modelling approaches and GIS; to use the results to prioritise areas for restoration based on increasing connectivity and core area of fragments.

3. To assess the current patterns of floristic biodiversity in dryland forest ecosystems within each of the seven study areas in Mexico and southern South America, using the results of field surveys supported by multivariate analyses and GIS; to analyse the factors influencing variation in floristic composition of forest patches, including both the influence of environmental factors and the impact of human activities, using multivariate statistical approaches; to identify locations of high species richness or high density of threatened, endemic or highly valuable tree species, to inform the identification of priority areas for restoration.

4. To develop and test forest restoration and land reclamation techniques for reversing degradation of dryland forest ecosystems, through a programme of field experiments to be established in the study areas; to identify the key ecological processes limiting establishment and growth of threatened and / or socio-economically important native tree species on degraded forest sites; to identify appropriate methods of restoring dryland forest ecosystems that contribute both to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity, and the economic development of local communities.

5. To determine traditional patterns of use and the socio-economic value of dryland forest resources to local communities; to identify methods and approaches for dryland forest restoration suitable for implementation by local communities; to examine how financial protocols can be developed and incentives provided to support restoration of dryland forest resources by local communities.

6. To assess the impact of forest loss, fragmentation and degradation on genetic variability within socio-economically important tree species of conservation concern; to examine the implications of reduced intra-specific genetic variation for the restoration of degraded tree populations; to provide practical guidance to restoration efforts based on an understanding of processes influencing intraspecific variation within tree species.

7. To parameterise a spatially explicit model of forest dynamics for dryland forests in selected study areas; to use spatially explicit models of dryland forest dynamics for predicting rates of forest recovery at the landscape scale under different land-use scenarios; to examine the potential impacts of climate change on future dynamics of dryland forests, and their implications for forest restoration.

8. To identify priority areas for dryland forest restoration within each of the study areas based on environmental criteria; to identify opportunities and constraints for dryland forest restoration based on socio-economic values of different land uses and natural resources, obtained through stakeholder consultation; to use multicriteria analysis techniques to integrate these criteria and to identify priorities for dryland restoration within each of the study areas.

9. To develop appropriate tools to support the communication and dissemination of research results, in a form that can directly support management decision-making and policy development, including information systems, decision support tools, criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management and rehabilitation; to develop management plans, practical guidelines and policy recommendations to support restoration of dryland forests, in ways that tap new market opportunities and support the development of rural livelihoods; to develop and implement a participatory process with relevant stakeholders that links applied research with the development of regional land-use planning strategies and associated policies.

10. To disseminate the results through scientific publications, research reports and internet resources; to strengthen the research capacity of partner organizations through a technical exchange programme; and to provide training to young scientists and local people.

Work Packages and Activities

Progress towards the general objective of the project will be achieved by research directed at each of the specific scientific and technical objectives listed. The research activities are divided into a series of nine workpackages (WPs), each of which is designed to address a different specific objective. A brief overview of the project’s activities, and how these are organized into the nine WPs, is given below.

Workpackage number
Workpackage title
1
Assessing the current extent and recent loss of dryland forest ecosystems
2
Assessing fragmentation and degradation of dryland forest ecosystems
3
Analysis of biodiversity in dryland forest ecosystems
4
Experimental analysis of dryland forest restoration techniques
5
Sustainable use and restoration of dryland forest ecosystems
6
Genetic variation and restoration of dryland tree species
7
Landscape-scale dynamics of dryland forest ecosystems
8
Identifying priority areas for dryland forest restoration
9
Development of decision support tools, policy options and management strategies

The basis of the research approach is to analyse the impact of human activities on the rate and pattern of forest loss (WP1), fragmentation and degradation (WP2) within each of the target study areas. This will be achieved by performing measurements of the variables describing the state of forest resources and the pressures upon them. The relationship between pressure and state variables will be analysed using statistical analysis and modelling procedures, performed in the spatial domain, in order that results may be visualized as maps and incorporated within GIS databases. These analyses will be supported by collation of existing spatial datasets and field information describing environmental and socio-economic characteristics of the study areas.

A detailed field survey will be performed to characterize the biodiversity of dryland forests within the study areas (WP3). Results will be integrated with estimates of forest loss (WP1), fragmentation and degradation (WP2) to estimate the biodiversity losses that have occurred within each study area as a result of human activities. Results will also be used to identify locations of high species richness or high density of threatened, endemic or highly valuable species, to inform the identification of priority areas for restoration. Research will also examine the impact of forest loss, fragmentation and degradation on genetic variability within socio-economically important tree species of conservation concern, to examine the implications of reduced intra-specific genetic variation for the restoration of degraded tree populations, and to provide practical guidance to restoration efforts based on an understanding of processes influencing genetic variation (WP6). The inclusion of this WP enables all three elements of biodiversity – genetic variation, species and ecosystems – to be investigated together in an integrated way.

A programme of field experiments will be established to test forest restoration and land reclamation techniques, to identify the key ecological processes limiting recovery of dryland forests, and to identify restoration methods and approaches that contribute both to biodiversity conservation and the economic development of local communities (WP4). A programme of socio-economic participatory surveys will also be undertaken, to determine traditional patterns of use and the social, cultural and economic value of dryland forest resources to local communities, and to identify priority dryland forest resources for restoration that have the potential to support the livelihoods and economic development of local communities (WP5).

In order to examine the potential impacts of land-use policies and management decisions on dryland forest resources, and thereby identify appropriate response options, dynamic models are required that produce estimates of the rate of change in forest structure and composition under different land-use scenarios. This will be achieved by parameterizing and validating a spatially explicit model of dryland forest dynamics in the study areas to predict rates of forest recovery at the landscape scale under different land-use scenarios (WP7). In addition, the potential impacts of climate change on future dynamics of dryland forests will be examined, through the use of spatially explicit statistical modelling approaches (WP7). These activities will be supported by field surveys, as appropriate, and by the results of WP1, 3 and 6.

In order for dryland forest restoration plans to be developed, areas that are suitable for restoration need to be identified. This requires consideration of the different environmental and socio-economic criteria that might be used to identify priority areas for restoration. A process of stakeholder consultation will therefore be established in each of the study areas, to identify opportunities and constraints for dryland forest restoration and to elicit information on the values held by different stakeholders. Multicriteria analysis techniques will then be used to define different restoration options according to different sets of criteria and the relative value placed upon them by different stakeholders. This analysis will form the basis of dialogue among stakeholders aimed at developing restoration plans at the landscape scale (WP8). This dialogue will be further supported by the results of other Workpackages (WP1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7).

In order for this research project to achieve its desired impact, and address the problem of the loss and degradation of dryland forest, the research results need to be communicated to those involved in policy development and implementation in ways that can directly support decision-making. This will be achieved by developing decision-support tools, including GIS-based information systems, multicriteria analyses, scenarios, criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management and restoration. Research results will be used to develop management plans and practical guidelines to support restoration of dryland forests, in ways that tap new market opportunities and support the development of rural livelihoods. In addition, policy recommendations will be identified through a participatory process established with relevant stakeholders, to support the development of regional land-use planning strategies incorporating dryland forest restoration. These activities will be performed in WP9, which will integrate, disseminate and apply the results of all of the other Workpackages.

Potential Impact

Dryland regions in Latin America have been subjected to widespread environmental degradation as a result of unsustainable patterns of land use. This has resulted in significant loss of biodiversity and negative impacts on the livelihoods of local communities, through declines in the environmental services provided by dryland forests. This project is designed to address these problems, by identifying approaches and techniques for restoring dryland forest ecosystems in a way that both benefits biodiversity and supports the livelihoods of local people.

1. Adopting a participatory approach to main elements of the research. Managing dryland areas is typically complex, with many stakeholders seeking different benefits. Particular attention therefore needs to be paid to the needs of local people. This will be achieved through use of participatory research methods to assess traditional patterns of forest use, and to identify the socio-economic constraints and opportunities for dryland forest restoration.

2. Undertaking policy-relevant research, and communicating the results effectively to decision-makers. Scientific research results by themselves are likely to achieve little in terms of changing patterns of land use. Instead, policies and management practices need to be developed that will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals. To ensure that the research of this project is policy-relevant, a process of dialogue with stakeholders will be established in each study area, enabling links to be developed between research, forest management and public policies. Use of decision-support tools will enable research results to be communicated to policy makers and other stakeholders in ways that can directly support decision-making.

3. Networking, outreach and demonstration. At the local scale, successful restoration trials established in collaboration with local communities can act as a powerful catalyst to increase awareness and uptake of restoration approaches in neighbouring areas. At the regional and international scale, information exchange between research groups can facilitate identification of best practice and enable practical solutions to be readily identified and disseminated. Our aim will be to establish an international network of research teams active in dryland forest restoration, increasing its impact at the regional level and catalyzing further initiatives.

4. Researching economic incentives. For forest restoration projects to be successful, it is essential to understand what incentives will promote the participation of local people. For example, forest services such as carbon sequestration, payments for environmental services or tourism and forest certification could provide economic benefits to those involved in restoration efforts. This project will research the different incentives that are or could potentially be made available, and identify those with greatest promise through a programme of participatory research.

Within the three year duration of the project, we anticipate that a substantial body of research will have been completed and results disseminated in the international literature; a large number of restoration trials and experiments will have been established that can act as demonstration sites in the future; and a participatory process of dialogue with stakeholders will have been established in each of the seven study areas, involving production of restoration plans and policy recommendations. We recognize that forest restoration is a long-term process, and that the ultimate impact of the project may only become apparent in the long term. However, a key value of the project lies in its ability to catalyse future activity. This project will initiate creation of an influential network of researchers and practitioners that could deliver a lasting impact throughout the entire region. This strengthening of capacity to undertake multi-disciplinary, collaborative, policy-relevant research is an important legacy of projects such as this in Third Countries, and will be a key outcome of this project.

We therefore hypothesize that:
The proposed research project will have a significant impact on reversing degradation of dryland forest ecosystems, by identifying approaches to forest restoration that both benefit biodiversity and support the livelihoods of local people, through:
1. Adopting a participatory approach to research
2. Undertaking research that is policy-relevant and by communicating the results effectively to decision-makers
3. Engaging in a process of networking, outreach and demonstration
4. Researching economic incentives for restoration by local people

Bournemouth University
PUC
UACH
Ecotono
Proyungas
Ecosur
IPN
Ecologia
UAH
Portale