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Back to school: Diversity for Restoration

Tropical dry forests host diverse species such as Calliandra tumbeziana, locally called ‘Seda seda’, a threatened species endemic to Northern Peru. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT / T.Fremout

A new tool and a workshop in northern Peru lead the way for improved forest restoration planning in the Americas and beyond.

The tropical dry forests found in northwestern Peru and southern Ecuador are biologically unique reservoirs teeming with endemic fauna and flora. Unfortunately they are also among the most threatened ecosystems worldwide. Over 40% of original tropical dry forest (TDF) land has been converted to agriculture, and almost all of the remaining areas are subjected to the compounding risks of overexploitation, overgrazing, forest fires and climate change. Prior to the expansion of intensive agriculture and prior still to the colonization of the Americas, these tropical dry forests supported robust human populations by providing food, medicine and forage. Now, organized and well-informed restoration is critical for ecosystem service regulation, conservation and the livelihood of local communities.

The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, with regional partners at the Peruvian forest service (SERFOR) and the University of Piura (UDEP), recently organized an intensive course on the design and implementation of forest restoration projects in northern Peru. The course, hosted at the UDEP campus, brought together 140 attendees from all sectors involved with restoration and conservation in northern Peru, including representatives from local and regional governments, the forest service, local experts, NGOs, entrepreneurs, university students and academics. The course provided the most up-to-date knowledge on the status of the TDF in Peru and focused on the application of new online tools designed for the management of restoration projects in this region.

A highlight was the course’s presentation of the Diversity for Restoration (D4R) tool, an online resource aimed to support planning of forest restoration projects. Users (researchers and practitioners) only need to go to the website,pinpoint the exact location of their restoration project, and indicate its scope and intent. D4R then analyzes this information and generates a report with suggestions such as which types of tree species to plant under current and projected climatic conditions for users to meet their desired objectives. The tool was first created for the similarly threatened tropical dry forests of Colombia and was recently expanded to the dry forests of Peru by doctoral student Tobias Fremout (University of Leuven), under the supervision of Alliance scientist Evert Thomas. At the workshop, D4R was taught alongside other resources developed by Fremout and forest engineer Jéssica Cerrón, such as the Catalogue of Dry Forests for northern Peru. Working together in facilitated groups, the participants practiced applying the tools to case studies of current restoration projects.

Pre- and post-workshop surveys indicated that participants’ understanding of issues, such as seed saving and sourcing, tree species diversity and climate change mitigating factors, all improved significantly during the workshop. Participants showed enthusiasm about connecting new tools (90% rated them highly useful and 78% easy to use) and concepts. For example, there was strong engagement around the definition and acquisition of ‘high quality seed’. Participants came to understand that one of the fundamental characteristics of high quality seed is having sufficient genetic diversity, which helps to ensure that trees can persist under current as well as novel environmental conditions anticipated under climate change. This is a particularly exciting take-away, as D4R features information on where individual projects can collect seed that meets this standard.

 

With little time to waste (two-thirds of the original tropical dry forests in the Americas are already lost or degraded), the plan is for the D4R platform to eventually host tools, projects, and methods for restoration efforts worldwide, drawing on projects from tropical dry forests in Peru, and expanding to include others such as those led by Alliance scientists in Burkina Faso and Cameroon.


This course was carried out with the financial support of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany (BMZ), under the project 'Laying the foundations for climate smart restoration: a toolbox for Peru’s tropical dry forest 2018-2020.' Additional funding came from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry.

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