Resources for restoring Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest

The Bahian Atlantic forests are conservation hotspots. Eve Lucas describes how information gathered from botanical surveys and local knowledge provides an important resource to inform habitat restoration in the region.

The Palm House

Atlantic Forests in Brazil are of exceptionally high biodiversity value and with high levels of deforestation and fragmentation, their restoration is a national, and in terms of carbon sequestration and biodiversity loss, a global priority. 

Habitat restoration

Anyone wishing to restore degraded Atlantic Forest habitat, at any scale, is faced with a lack of information on which species do best, in which positions and under what conditions. Whilst some of this information is available from disparate sources, until now no one source has brought everything together.

A web-based, high quality data and species selection tool was produced and made available to restoration practitioners in the region. Key partners were Kew, the Universidade Federal de Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB) and the Universidade Federal de Bahia, with support from Rio Tinto Amargosa and the Kew-Rio Tinto Partnership fund.

The study area was located within the ‘Interior Forests of Bahia’ ecoregion (WWF, 2015). This is a region of interior Atlantic coastal forest in south-eastern Bahia on nutrient-poor, bauxite rich soils. Vegetation types in this region are typically sub-montane tropical moist forest with epiphytes in various stages of succession, open canopy liana forest or higher altitude rocky fields. 

What makes a good species for restoration?

Species that fitted the following criteria were included in the database:

1) occurs naturally in the area
2) provides resources for local people
3) is locally appreciated

Other factors that influenced selection were:

1) which species do well in the early stages of rehabilitation/restoration?
2) how will soils influence species selection?
3) where can seed be obtained?
4) are any species rare or vulnerable?

Where does the information come from?

We gathered the information from three types of survey:

1. Botanical inventory

Three sub-localities were subject to repeated botanical survey over a 12 month period to build up a picture of the species that occur there naturally. Close to 2,000 pressed plant specimens were photographed and collected, with duplicate collections left in local universities and brought to Kew. The specimens are identified to provide a list of species in the area that represents a baseline for this and for future work. Pressed plant specimens from similar areas and literature on what is already known from these localities are consulted to identify the collected material.

2. Secondary forest vegetation survey

Quantitative surveys were conducted at each site to record: latitude/longitude, altitude, soil type, soil compaction and texture, hydrology, species assemblage (which species regenerate easily? which are invasive?), vegetation history (when was it last cleared? how was the land managed since clearing?), grazing (presence/absence), vegetation physiognomy (canopy height range, trunk width range, uniformity). Knowledge of the disturbance history of each plot (type of disturbance and time since abandonment) and hydrology were assessed by observation and consultation with local people. Species accumulation curves were drawn for each site to assess diversity capture to assess which species regenerate most easily under the various histories.

3. Local stakeholder survey

Local stakeholders (landowners/caretakers/park guards and guides/restoration practitioners) were consulted using semi-structured interview techniques. Interviewees suggested species of economic or ecosystem service importance (shade, crop pollination, recreation, food, raw-materials).

Results

Of the material collected during this project, 13 species have been identified as new to science (a number likely to rise) and 19 are endemic to Bahia. Eight species are considered rare and two species are endemic only to the remaining Bahian interior forests. The developing botanical inventory is highly likely to yield further rare and endemic species. 127 species were listed during the stakeholder/restoration practitioner survey.

Individuals interviewed for the stakeholder survey listed 215 species that were identified by the three surveys as having ecological, environmental or economic value. Of these, 100 were prioritised for use in restoration according to the criteria described above.

The website is entitled ‘Reforestation in Southern Bahia’. The interface allows searching based on forest role, function/use and habitat. Results are displayed as species pages; up to 15 returned species pages at a time can be printed as PDFs.

Conclusions

The project has produced the most detailed botanical inventory of the region to date for the interior forests of southeastern Bahia, a robust survey of its secondary vegetation and a bilingual, prototype web-based tool allowing stakeholders to compile site-specific lists of species for use in regional restoration as well as details on sourcing seed, seed management and seedling propagation.

Further surveys are necessary to ensure that sample sizes of vegetation and species sampling, secondary vegetation survey plots and stakeholder interviews are statistically significant.

Identification of pressed specimens is an ongoing process that will doubtless result in further discoveries. 

Reference

WWF (Wild Wildlife Fund). (2014). Ecoregions.