24 June 2019

Two grants to explore ecosystem restoration in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

Two of the four transnational projects selected for funding within the NWO-FAPESP joint call Ecosystem restoration: the Brazilian Atlantic Forest as a case study have been awarded to projects with researchers from the Utrecht University Academy of Ecosystem Services. Both projects will contribute to effective restoration and sustainable use of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

The Atlantic Forest is a South American forest that extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Norte state in the north to Rio Grande do Sul state in the south, and inland as far as Paraguay and the Misiones Province of Argentina. Since colonisation, over 85% of the original area has been deforested. Current governmental policies are aiming to recover thousands of hectares of the original forest biome.

Project 1: Governing the Atlantic Forest transition: Improving our knowledge on forest recovery for ecosystem services

The historical decline of the Atlantic Forest area in Brazil has now transitioned to a modest increase. However, high land prices caused by the presence of vast agricultural areas in the state of Sao Paulo means that reforestation is expensive. The result is that mostly poor quality pasture land is restored, which has limited positive effects on biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services such as carbon, sediment retention, and habitat and water provisioning. In addition, forest plantations are often made up of only a few species such as pine and eucalyptus, which can negatively impact on biodiversity conservation.

Eucalyptus plantations in the Brazilian Atlantic forest have negative consequences for biodiversity conservation. Photo: Simone Lovera

Although ecosystem services are provided by recovering forests, the way forests recover can mean that not all services are fully developed at the same time. Incentives are offered to farmers or landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide some sort of ecological service. If payments are only developed on single services, it does not take into account that services may not be delivered at their full potential, and the interactive effects this may have.

This project will address how the multi-functional Atlantic Forest landscape can be effectively managed in order to optimize and distribute its goods and services among the local actors who live and work there. The project seeks to better understand the socio-ecological systems that constitute forests, ecosystem services and (local) actors, including political and economic trends and the balance among social and ecological costs-and-benefits. Integrating these types of knowledge will allow more effective upscaling of restoration and conservation efforts.

Associate Professor

Project 2: The contribution of plant-animal interactions to biodiversity and ecosystem restoration of the Atlantic forest

Forest recovery and restoration lead to an increase of secondary forests, which are expected to be different from pristine forests in terms of their plant and animal communities. Human impacts regulate both tree and animal abundances, but in different ways. This means that novel communities often develop in restored fragments.

Fragmented forest among pasture land in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest area. Photo: Dr. Karen D. Holl.

Important landscape characteristics such as land-use and native forest cover in surrounding areas are likely to alter the influx of frugivorous animals, tree seeds and genotypes from neighbouring forests, greatly affecting the composition and functioning of these novel communities. In severely fragmented landscapes like the Atlantic Forest region, there could be major societal implications if ecosystem functions such as carbon storage are compromised.

This project addresses the complex interactions between plants and animals in recovering and restored forest patches to evaluate their contribution to forest ecosystem functioning and the provisioning of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration. The project will identify priority areas within the Atlantic Forest region that are most suitable for recovery and restoration, and develop guidelines to promote plant-frugivore interactions that enhance biodiversity and carbon sequestration where needed.

The Academy of Ecosystem Services

The Academy of Ecosystem Services is a partnership between Utrecht University and several knowledge institutes, nature conservation NGOs and other societal partners. It acts as a platform to provide solutions to issues related to ecosystem services and to stimulate the exchange between science and practice.