Evaluating the Effectiveness of Native Species Reforestation for Carbon Sequestration, Biodiversity Conservation, and Sustainable Agroforestry in Nicaragua’s Tropical Dry Forest Ecosystem (2017)

Client Organization: 
Paso Pacifico
Project Location : 
Field work will be conducted in the Paso del Istmo Biological Corridor, Department of Rivas, Nicaragua; lab work and data analysis will be conducted at UM’s SNRE.
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives

In 2007, the environmental non-profit Paso Pacifico restored and reforested 400 hectares of abandoned and degraded cattle pasture in Nicaragua, via funding from an ex-ante carbon purchase from Carbonfund.org. This project aimed to maximize multiple ecosystem benefits by not only sequestering carbon, but incorporating a diverse mix of dozens of native tree species known to provide resources for endangered animals and incorporating local ecological knowledge into reforestation design and management. We have also conducted semiannual monitoring of birds and annual monitoring of lepidopterans at reforestation sites since the initiation of the project, providing information on changes in two indicator taxa assemblages associated with reforestation. During the past year, we have revisited plots established at the project start, to measure carbon sequestration since reforestation began. Our preliminary analyses suggest that tree growth and carbon sequestration has proceeded with surprising speed, with above ground stocks consistent with 20-25 year old forest. However, at this point we don’t know if our reforestation design and management resulted in unusually rapid gains, or if these growth rates are more broadly typical of the area. We are seeking a team to work with us to locate areas of unmanaged forest regeneration and of managed hardwood plantations in the area of similar age to the reforestation to establish some after-the-fact controls where we can measure and contrast carbon sequestration and establish the pacing of above-ground carbon accumulation in our work area. The team would collect data on bird and lepidopteran diversity at these sites to provide a snapshot data set on biodiversity that we can contrast with data from our multi-year monitoring. This landscape is a dynamic and complex mosaic of forest, regeneration, and agriculture; ideally, one team member would explore effects of land cover at different spatial scale on response variables, Together, these data will allow us to evaluate whether or not our reforestation methods represent the substantial “kick start” to biodiversity that they appear to be.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance

Tropical dry forests are one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems, with less than 2% of its original area remaining. The long term survival of this ecosystem will require restoration and reforestation, sometimes with active intervention. From an ecological perspective, allowing tropical dry forests to regenerate naturally from pasture can result in forests dominated by wind-dispersed tree species that are less attractive to many vertebrates, particularly large-bodied frugivores. However, the costs of labor-intensive reforestation from seedlings that later require mechanical thinning can be a barrier to tropical dry forest restoration. By considering the composition of natural regeneration and native species reforestation in the same landscape we can evaluate the effects on a number of response variables and better evaluate the costs and benefits of the two approaches. If Paso Pacifico’s refoerstaiton approach proves particularly beneficial for biodiversity and forest recovery, our methods could be used to restore dry forest in other areas of Mesoamerica and help rebuild Central America’s Pacific coast forest corridors.

Specific Activities & Duration

Most of the work will consist of establishing plots and measuring trees using a standard methodology and with the assistance of Paso Pacifico’s project technicians in the field. Additionally, depending on interests, team members might establish point transects for bird monitoring (in collaboration with our Nicaraguan biologist) and line transects for placement of lepidopteran fruit baited traps in collaboration with a Nicaraguan entomologist. We would strongly encourage and welcome a component of social science and interviews in order to establish land use histories Field work could be completed in a 6-8 week period, allowing some time for internships over the summer break of 2016. Although team members would at times work with bilingual members of Paso Pacifico’s staff, all team members must have some ability to communicate in Spanish (ideally 2 or higher on the ILR scale, http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/ILRscale2.htm#2). A participant interested in the informatics aspect would work from a laboratory setting with land cover files developed from 2009-2010 SPOT imagery, although would be encouraged to participate in field work as appropriate and feasible with time commitments and travel costs. Once back Michigan, data analysis for carbon sequestration calculations would be fairly straightforward.

Integrative Approach:

Although the primary focus of this project is conservation ecology, it would include several aspects (terrestrial ecosystems, conservation biology), specifically characterization of plant assemblages monitoring of vertebrate and invertebrate indicator taxa, and ideally interviews and education with local community members.
Paso Pacifico has a WIDE range of programs that cut across conservation, science, and education; within the basic framework of evaluating rates of carbon sequestration in different land use types in our work area, we are flexible about developing specific activities and research questions.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Informatics
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ivette Perfecto
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • John Andreoni, MS Conservation Ecology/Environmental Justice
  • Lillie Kline, MS Behavior, Education and Communication/Conservation Ecology 
  • Astrid Santiago, MS Sustainable Systems 
  • Alex Truelove, MS Sustainable Systems 
Project Status: 
Past Project