Beyond the Biophysical: The Potential for Natural Regeneration Depends on Socioeconomic, Political, and Regulatory Factors
Uriarte, M., and R. L. Chazdon. 2016. Incorporating natural regeneration in forest landscape restoration in tropical regions: Synthesis and key research gaps. Biotropica 48:915-924.
Prudent shoppers know how to recognize a good bargain when they see it. But policies regarding forest restoration usually do not focus on bargains or even on outcomes with multiple benefits. Rather, they favor restoration cases that will deliver direct economic outcomes and returns on investment based on commercial production and business models. Despite the many benefits and cost-effectiveness of natural regeneration for restoring forests and recovering biodiversity, few policies to promote, protect, and manage passive and assisted regeneration are in place. In this synthesis paper from a Special Issue of Biotropica, Uriarte and Chazdon describe how the potential for incorporating natural regeneration into forest and landscape restoration (FLR) interventions depends on socioeconomic, political, and regulatory factors in relation to land-use outcomes. Natural regeneration potential increases with proximity to forest remnants, rainfall, and soil fertility; and declines after intensive land uses. But beyond biophysical factors, governance structures, legal frameworks, and policies that foster human capacities come into play.
Synthesis of the 16 papers published in the special issue points to major gaps in our knowledge and provides clear directions for six general interdisciplinary research questions. This research agenda focuses on mechanisms to harness the potential of natural regeneration in FLR implementation and on identifying the conditions under which natural regeneration is a viable and attractive intervention from economic, legal, and governance perspectives. We already know that assisted and spontaneous natural regeneration can significantly reduce the costs of FLR while offering substantial benefits for biodiversity conservation, ecosystem service provision, and human livelihoods. But it is important to recognize that natural regeneration is not a universal solution to resolve tensions and conflicts over land-use management and yields advantages over more costly tree planting interventions under a limited set of socio-ecological circumstances.
The PARTNERS connection
This is the concluding paper of a Special Issue of Biotropica based on an international workshop held at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 19–21 November, 2014. The workshop was organized by the International Institute for Sustainability (IIS), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Resources Institute (WRI), and PARTNERS. PARTNERS organized the scientific talks, which were later published in the Special Issue.