Can we replant the planet's rainforests?

Replanting the Rainforests
The golden toad is one of many amphibian species to recently become extinct.
The golden toad is one of many amphibian species to recently become extinct.
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So, can we push up our sleeves, grab a shovel, dig in and just start replanting the rainforests? To a certain extent, we can. However, while efforts at reforestation have significant value, they're usually not as crucial as preserving existing rainforests. Rainforest conservation is just as important as trying to reforest other areas.

Reforestation can be accomplished by nature, by humans or through a combination of the two. Some reforestation efforts focus on growing forests quickly because these woodlands are key to many of Earth's natural cycles, such as the carbon and water cycles. Replanting deforested land with quick-growing exotic tree species, like eucalyptus or Australian acacia, can help solve immediate problems such as soil erosion and elevated carbon levels.

Bats like the spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus) are great at dispersing seeds, which could help accelerate reforestation efforts.
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How­ever, exotic trees may make the land unsuitable for future rainforest cultivation by changing the soil's original characteristics. Scientists need to study individual situations to determine what type of impact each foreign species will make on the area's microbial life, and what the appropriate choices are for reforestation. On a positive note, fast-growing secondary forests and tree farms can replace primary forests as a source for agricultural and energy needs. A primary forest is basically one that's undisturbed by humans and has suffered very few ecological disruptions. There are several other names for a primary forest, such as old growth and primeval forest. A secondary forest is one that has regrown after a destructive event, like a fire or logging. Primary forests usually have much higher levels of biodiversity than secondary ones, which is part of the reason conservationists are trying to save old growth [source: Butler].

In areas where deforestation is severe, remaining patches of primary forests are often located at great distances from other surviving rainforests or reforested regions. This makes animal survival and recolonization, as well as plant cross-pollination, difficult and can impede efforts to sustain actual rainforest ecology. Although the parcels of vegetative land can increase the chance of some species' short-term survival, researchers say the species are likely doomed to extinction over the long term.

­One ­way conservationists seek to protect rainforest species is to reforest the corridors of trees that lie between rainforest parcels. This gives plants and animals access to a larger habitat and the chance to mix with other populations, which can boost their genetic diversity and help prevent extinction through isolation for most species. Conservationists can help cultivate these arboreal arteries into supportable rainforest habitats by working to have these corridors widened. The wider the corridors are, the safer they become for migrating animals to use.

It's also important to reforest and enlarge areas adjacent to these surviving parcels. This provides an easy means for species to inhabit new territory and expand viable rainforest ecology.

Researchers are exploring several options for improving and easing reforestation efforts. One inventive method involves bats. Installing man-made bat roosts in deforested areas can encourage these uniquely flight-enabled mammals (like the spectacled flying fox) to spread seeds and begin the process of rainforest regeneration. Activities like installing bat roosts are examples of how people are a part of natural reforestation efforts.

Reforestation is gaining momentum on a global scale. To get a better idea of worldwide reforestation efforts, go to the next page.