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September 1996 Number 2
September 1996 Number 2

September 1996

Number 2

Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach

Tropical rainforests are disappearing at a rapid rate (see Figure 1). Human activity has reduced their global coverage from over 18 million km 2 to less than 10.5 km 2 . Although the clearing of the forest produces many short term benefits, to provide a long term sustainable resource, tropical rainforests must be carefully managed. The ecosystem management approach uses farming techniques that are more applicable to the rainforest environment. These techniques are developed through an understanding of the ecosystem and allow the production of valuable resources, but still conserve the rainforest.

Fig 1. Loss Of Tropical Forests In Developing Regions, 1980-90

Area Deforested (millions Of Hectares; Annual Average) Rate Of Deforestation (percent; Annual Average) 2.0 10
Area Deforested
(millions Of Hectares;
Annual Average)
Rate Of Deforestation
(percent; Annual Average)
2.0
10
1.5
8
6
1.0
4
0.5
2
0
0
Latin
Asia
Sub-
America
Saharan
And The
Africa
Caribbean
Area Deforested
Rate Of Deforestation
Source: WWF (1992)

The Threat To Rainforests

The major causes of rainforest destruction are:-

1. International debt.

2. National policies e.g. transmigration schemes in Indonesia, government subsidies

for ranching, incentives for growth of cash crops.

3. Fuel wood collection.

4. Demand for timber e.g. mahogany, teak from developed countries.

5. Overpopulation.

6. Base for economic development. (see Fig 2).

These root causes accelerate the agents of

destruction:-

1. Non-traditional small scale shifting agriculture.

2. Cattle ranching.

3. Plantation for cash crops.

4. Logging.

5. Development projects e.g. mining, road building.

Exam Hint - The Fact Sheet will not cover the causes and effects of deforestation in detail. However, it is important that students have a clear understanding of the complex interrelationships that occur during deforesta- tion (see Factsheet on Tropical Rainforests). The consequences of rainforest destruction are summarised in Fig. 3.

Fig 2. The Role Of Forests In Development (Or why do developing countries want to
Fig 2. The Role Of Forests In Development
(Or why do developing countries
want to exploit their forests?)
Primary Forest Product
Processing Industry
Products
Industries Based On
Products Or End Use
None
Large Unsawn Logs
Export
Large Unsawn Logs
Veneers
Export Of Luxury Furniture
Construction Including:
Sawmills
Sawn Logs Producing
Polewood Or Blockboard
Shipbuilding
Furniture
Logs For Sleepers
Railway Construction
Wastes-Shavings, Sawdust
Used As Fuel
Sawnwood
Sawmills
Waste-Shavings, Sawdust
Construction
Furniture
Joinery
Packaging
Transport
Mining
Matches
Tool-Making
Used As Fuel
Small Unsawn Logs
Paper
Printing, Packaging
Cardboard
Packing, Containers
Pulpmills
Newsprint
Printing
Fibreboard
Printing, Construction
Pit Props
Mining
Poles
Sawmills
Toolmaking
Cut Poles
Communications
Charcoal Production
Residues (Stumps, Diseased
Or Damaged Wood,
Branchwood, Leaves, Bark
Chipping
Chips, Fuelwood Briquettes
Fuel Wood
Edible Products
Food Processing Industries
Fruits, Nuts, Oils
Food Production For Home
use and export
Forests can provide a huge range of products which form the basis of many industries. As a result the governments of developing
countries have been under great pressure to exploit the economic potential of their virgin forests. In practice this has usually meant
clear-felling or selective felling and clearance through burning; sustainable management is more difficult, time consuming and, in
the short term, expensive.
Fig 3. Consequences Of Deforestation Silting Temperature Fertility Variability Migration Economic loss (Medicines,
Fig 3. Consequences Of
Deforestation
Silting
Temperature
Fertility
Variability
Migration
Economic loss (Medicines,
Foods, Industrial Products)
Insolation/
to cities
Leaching
Erosion
reradiation
Loss of
biodiversity
Rainsplash
Cloud cover
Homes, income,
food, culture.
Disease
Habitat destruction,wildlife
disturbance, species extinction
Evapotranspiration
Interception
Forest
Cover
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Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach

The Ecosystem Concept

An ecosystem is an interacting community of living things existing in and interacting with a particular non-living environment. An ecosystem is therefore composed of two components:

1. Abiotic components.

These are the non-living, or physical and chemical elements of the environment; topography (altitude, aspect), climate (temperature, insolation) and non-living components of soils (nutrient content).

2.Biotic components.

These are the living elements, including animals, plants and microbes existing within the abiotic components. The total biotic component, or total organic component is known as the biomass.

Exam Hint - Students are expected to be able to describe ecosystems with reference to the vegetation present (variety of species, vertical layers of vegetation), climate(temperature and precipitation variation) and soil type. Marks are often lost for a lack of detail when describing ecosystems.

Tropical Rainforest Ecosystems

Tropical rainforest ecosystems are significantly different to other forest ecosystems. They have the following combination of characteristics:

1. Multi-layered vegetation.

Tropical rainforests show a distinctive layered structure as illustrated in Figure 4. This layered structure:

• Reduces the impact of rainfall reaching ground level.

• Limits the amount of sunlight reaching ground level.

• Provide large amounts of leaf litter.

This structure also provides a vast number of potential habitats for plant and animals, with rainforests containing up to 300 plant species per hectare, compared to temperate forests that only contain about 25. For example, many forest trees support other vegetation including numerous epiphytes such as orchids. These are herbaceous plants that grow on other plants without damaging them.

Fig 4. Multi-layered structure of a

tropical rainforest 40 (m) A 30 B 20 C 10 D E 0 Root Zone
tropical rainforest
40
(m)
A
30
B
20
C
10
D
E
0
Root Zone

Layers And Zones Through a Lowland Forest

2. Rapid Nutrient Cycling.

The biomass of a tropical rainforest is on average 700 tonnes/ha, whereas biomass of a temperate forest it is around 130 tonnes/ha. This abundant biomass is due to three main factors:

1. Rapid overall rate of growth produced by the high levels of solar energy at tropical latitudes.

2. Abundant amounts of water

3. Rapid nutrient cycling (see Figure 5).

Rainforest vegetation is constantly shedding leaves. The resultant leaf litter is decomposed within 3 to 4 months by the high density of detritivores and decomposers in the shallow topsoil (around 3 cm deep). In comparison, in temperate latitudes decomposition can take more than two years. Released nutrients are then taken up by the shallow roots of the vegetation. Rapid nutrient recycling is assisted by the high average daily temperature (28-30 C) and high humidity of the climate in tropical rainforests.

o

Fig 5. Percentage Of Nutrients In The Vegetation Of Tropical And Temperate Woodlands Tropical Temperate
Fig 5. Percentage Of Nutrients
In The Vegetation Of Tropical
And Temperate Woodlands
Tropical
Temperate
Lowland
Deciduous
Cote D'Ivoire
W. Germany
-1
-1
Kg ha
Kg ha
N
2600
N
8196
P
25
P
2777
K
120
K
479
Ca
220
Ca
264
Mg
80
Mg
43
100
80
60
40
20
0
N
P
K Ca Mg
N
P
K
Ca Mg
In rainforests, as a result of very rapid
recycling, most nutrients are in the
vegetation (roots, stems, branches, leaves,
fruits), not in the soil. The classical picture
is therefore of a thin, nutrient and
humus-poor soil. Recent research has shown
this to be over simplistic but the key point
remains that tropical soils are much more
vunerable to exposure than their temperate
counterparts. Removal of the forest canopy,
even in small gaps, will result in rapid
leaching and erosion.
Elements In Vegetation

Exam Hint - Many students fail to realise that tropical rainforests do show daily temperature variations, along with significant micro climate differences between the upper tree and shrub layer. In addition, at higher altitudes and latitudes rainforest even show noticeable seasons.

3. Vulnerable Soils.

The high temperatures and rainfall result in very high rates of weathering of the ferrisols present. This means nutrients are quickly leached out of the ecosystem making them unavailable to vegetation. Rainforest vegetation therefore relies on removing nutrients directly from the humus at a the top of the soil profile.

Exam Hint - Tropical soils, like any others, vary greatly depending upon factors such as parent material, precipitation patterns and

vegetation cover. Better candidates always show an understanding of soil processes hence, recognise that soil types may be changed as a result of even minor alterations to such processes.

4. Rapid Succession.

Due to the low nutrient content of tropical rainforest soil, cleared areas of rainforest has very

Red Clay Layer Due To Iron Compounds;

low levels of productivity. However, within 3

No Marked Horizons.

to 4 years (depending on the region) a

secondary growth of vegetation will become

established and the soil humus content replenished. This rapid rate of succession is a result of the high growth rates of the rainforest vegetation, along with the high temperatures and levels of precipitation. For example, some bamboo species can grow by 1m per day.

Exam Hint - Exam questions which focus on the kind of data presented in Fig 5 fall into two categories:

descriptive questions, which simply ask for a comparison of parts of the data. interpretation questions which, besides a brief description, require candidates to show that they understand the significance of the differences in the

nutrient content of the two types of forest. Candidates very frequently lose marks by answering descriptively when interpretation is required.

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Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach

The Ecosystem Management Concept

Management techniques are usually aimed at improving forests for a particular use. By using techniques based on an understanding of the unique characteristics of tropical rainforest ecosystems, large areas of the rainforest can be conserved and exploited sustainably. Sustainable management is when the level of exploitation is not greater than the ability of the ecosystem to replace itself. There are a wide variety of ecosystem based management techniques, however, most sustainable management practices will usually mimic natural processes:

1. Use natural regeneration not planting.

2. Set the annual yield at the maximum sustainable yield. This is equal to the volume of timber which can be removed from an area annually without damaging the forest’s ability to produce the same volume in the succeeding year or any yet thereafter.

3. Do not fell just one or a very small number of species – currently only a very small fraction of utilisable species are used and this means that very large areas are often logged for the extraction of just a very few trees.

4. Minimise damage caused by felling – most destruction of forest comes through access roads and damage caused when trees are felled and dragged out. The ability of a partly logged forest to recover depends upon sufficient survival of: seedlings; seed trees; natural pollinating and dispersal organisms and the maintenance of soil fertility.

5. Maintain the canopy or create gaps which would naturally occur. This maintains micro climate, avoids sudden changes, for example, in the intensity and volume of rainfall hitting vulnerable soils (see Table 1) and avoids drastic fluctuations in soil or canopy temperatures (see Table 2).

Case Study. Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru

The Reserve covers 1-5 million ha and, whilst the majority of the area is now managed without exploitation, an area of 300,000 ha provides a zone in which sustainable management is attempted. The reserve protects over 1000 bird species, 110 species of bats and 16000 plants but also contains important populations of top predators, Highland areas of the Reserve are

protected as watersheds but within the sustainably- managed areas a population of 600 Indians are allowed to selectively fell a wide range of species, practice aquaculture and agroforestry based upon fruit and rubber trees intercropped with maize.

Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru

Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru

6. Protect natural saplings which emerge in gaps; gap size should be closely related to the growth characteristics of the sapling. If no natural saplings emerge then native species should be planted.

7. Avoid damage, at all costs, to key wildlife food trees – this means that a detailed knowledge of food webs within the ecosystem is required.

8. Maintain some areas unlogged as refuge

areas for animal and plant species – e.g. in Sabah strips are left along water courses equal to 5% of the logged area. In Uganda 20% is regarded as the optimal logging-free area. It can be seen that these practices take into account the extremely high species diversity of tropical forest areas – removing just one species in an area where up to three hundred species may be present in one hectare does not make sense. Similarly, management aims to minimise

unnatural gaps within the forest canopy, thus protecting the micro-climatic effect of the forest and the vulnerable, nutrient poor soils.

Other approaches can then be used in conjunction with the ecosystem approach.

Plantations are man-made forests usually consisting of one valuable and even aged tree species e.g. mahogany. Plantations have none of the biological diversity of the original forest and their main function is to divert attention from naturally growing mahogany etc. in virgin forest to maintain national timber production levels.

Plantations are an attractive option since;

1. Many tropical countries have low popula- tion densities and large areas of unused land

e.g. Brazil has 100 million hectares of

cerrado i.e. land which has been cleared and roughly grazed but is now covered with

scrub.

Table 2. Relationship between the loss of soil and rainfall intensity in northern Thailand beneath different vegetation densities on more or less forested experimental plots.

Soil Losses (kg/ha) Density Of Vegetation Cover (% Of The Area Which Is Covered)

Rainfall Intensity

20 to 30

50 to 60

60 to 70

80 to 90

(mm/h)

0-10

6.1

4

2.9

2.6

10-20

19.1

19.2

9.8

10.9

>20

43.6

25.2

28.1

16.9

2. Plantations are densely stacked i.e. use all the planted land efficiently, consist of one species (making marketing easier) which can be carefully matched with the site conditions. Productivity is therefore high e.g. Gmelina arborea acheives a mean annual growth of 35m ha yr

3

-1

-1

100m

3 35m / yr
3
35m /
yr

100m

100m X 100m = 1ha

1m

3 = 1 tonne

3. Plantations effectively:

a. reduce impact velocity of rainfall on soil

b. regulate the rate at which water reaches

the soil via stemflow and leafdrip

c. reduce the total volume of water which

reaches the soil (because of evapouration from leaves).

This eliminates raindrop erosion.

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Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach

Controlled cutting. This involves removal of a limited number of trees in a particular area, of varying size and age, to conserve the rainforest species diversity. This technique is used to develop community forests which maintains the original forest ecosystem and also provide local people with medicinal plants and timber for furniture and building, for example rattan.

Agro-forestry. This involves combining trees spatially and/or temporally with agricultural crops and/or animals (see Figure 7). Soil-enriching trees, such as those with nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots can be planted to reduce the fallow time needed by the soil. This means that less pressure is placed on virgin land for agriculture. Timber crops can be grown along with food and cash crops. The trees provide shade for the low growing cash crops and increase productivity per unit area. This also simulates the natural multi-structure of the rainforest, so maintaining habitat diversity. Cash crops used in this way include cocoa, rubber, maize and green legumes and provide corridors along which species can move to colonise logged forest.

Table 3 illustrates some examples of sustainable management techniques used in tropical rainforests around the world.

Table 3:

Sustainable Rainforest -based Industries

Fig 7. Agroforestry In Guatemala Sauco Tree (Sambucus Mescicana) Over Maize Or Potato Fields

SOLAR RADIATION RAIN ASSOCIATED WIND MICROCLIMATIC CONDITIONS Radiant energy Air movement Evapotranspiration
SOLAR RADIATION
RAIN
ASSOCIATED
WIND
MICROCLIMATIC
CONDITIONS
Radiant energy
Air movement
Evapotranspiration
Max. air temp
Min. air temp
CANOPY INTERCEPTION
LITTERFALL
THROUGHFALL
FOG DRIP
STEMFLOW
ASSOCIATED
SOIL CONDITIONS
Organic matter
Cation exchange capacity
Nutrient concentrations
Soil moisture
Moisture retention
Surface temperature
Soil Stabilization
ROOT
DECOMPOSITION
NUTRIENT UPTAKE
EXTENSIVE
ROOT SYSTEM

Activity

Global Example

Craft items. Products and carvings from sustainable bark and wood

Bilum bags made from tulip bark by the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea

Brazil nut oil production

Kayapo Indians of Brazil

Rubber. Widespread harvesting from individual trees

Kuna Indians of the offshore islands of Panama

Butterfly Farming. Intact habitats are needed to farm the largest, most valuable butterflies. This encourages conservation

WWF community butterfly farm, New Guinea Island, S.E. Asia

Ecotourism. Provides money for conservation and increases understanding of rainforests without damaging the environment. The non-timber value of tropical forests often far exceeds the timber value

The Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, Ecuador. This employs local Indians organising tourist groups limited in size, who must have a trained guide. Activities of visitors are very closely controlled

Gene Pool. Providing a potential resource for future medicines and agricultural crops

Pharmaceutical group Merk & Co. have paid US $1 million to a scientific and conservation charity to screen unexplored plant and animal species

Exam Hint - Be explicit in your explanations. How does the combination of trees and crops fit in with our knowledge of the rainforest ecosystem?

Bibliography

WWF (1992): Forests: Types, status and value Data Support sheet 29, December 1992

Acknowledgements;

This Geo Factsheet was researched and written by Kevin Byrne and James Sharpe

10 St Pauls Square Birmingham B3 1QU

Geopress Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber.

No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without the prior permission of the publisher.

ISSN 1351-5136

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