Developing biodiversity indicators of value and ecosystem health for regenerating tropical forest

Ross MacLeod

The importance of pristine rainforest for biodiversity conservation is well known. However in many areas of the world, much of the tropical forest that remains has experienced significant human disturbance. Recent research has shown that even after extreme disturbance, such as clearance by logging or for agriculture, tropical forest regeneration may offer potential for substantial recover from such devastating environmental change.

Research currently ongoing in the PhD study area is finding that with effective conservation management rainforest regeneration has already allowed biodiversity levels to recover to 80 to 90% of the levels recorded in surrounding primary forest sites. More importantly the species present in the regenerating forest are not simply wide spread generalists of little conservation concern but include a high proportion of the species (87% to 92% depending on taxa) of threatened and near-threatened species that would be expected to have existed in the original primary rainforest.

This PhD will build on the current research programme by investigating regenerating tropical forest at a wider landscape level to ask what species, groups of species or community characteristics can be used as rapid assessment indicators of the value and health of regenerating tropical forest ecosystems. Establishing such indicators specifically for regenerating forest would allow much more effective conservation management and sustainable development monitoring than is currently possible and provide the basis for greatly improved decision making about the ecosystem service values of regenerating rainforests.

The student will thus investigate presence, abundance and diversity of species alongside an assessment of human disturbance levels, ecosystem services and forest age across a range of regenerating tropical forest sites.

First published: 9 July 2014

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