Recovering tropical forests: centuries needed to acquire the composition of old-growth forests


Tropical forests are home to the vast majority of the world’s known 53,000 tree species, but over half of these forests are not old-growth; instead, they naturally regenerate after a forest is cleared, often for agriculture or livestock farming, and the land is later abandoned. In Latin America, recovering secondary forests cover up to 28 % of tropical land surface. Do these forests help maintain tropical tree diversity? Not in the medium term, according to a study published in the 06 March 2019 edition of Science Advances: on average, five decades is enough to find on secondary forest plots the same tree species richness found in well-conserved old-growth forests, but it takes centuries before the composition of a secondary forest is similar to that of an old-growth one (after 20 years of regrowth, only 34% of species identified in neighbouring old-growth forests are found in recovering forests). 

Led by an international team of American and European scientists, coordinated by a group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and with the participation of two researchers from the CNRS and the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (MNHN)1, this research highlights the need to preserve old-growth and recovering forests in order to protect biodiversity in landscapes which have been modified by humans.

  • 1. Jérôme Chave, a CNRS ecologist at the “Evolution et diversité biologique” laboratory (CNRS/ UT3 Paul Sabatier/IRD) and Denis Larpin, a botanist at the MNHN

Biodiversity recovery of Neotropical secondary forests, Rozendaal et al., Science Advances, 6 mars 2019

doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau3114


Jérôme Chave
CNRS researcher
Priscilla Dacher
Deputy head of CNRS press office