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September 1996

Geo Factsheet
Fig 2. The Role Of Forests In Development
Primary Forest Product Processing Industry Products Rate Of Deforestation (percent; Annual Average) None Large Unsawn Logs Veneers Sawmills Sawn Logs Producing Polewood Or Blockboard Logs For Sleepers Wastes-Shavings, Sawdust

Number 2

Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach
Tropical rainforests are disappearing at a rapid rate (see Figure 1). Human activity has reduced their global coverage from over 2 2 18 million km to less than 10.5 km . Although the clearing of the forest produces many short term benefits, to provide a long term sustainable resource, tropical rainforests must be carefully managed. The ecosystem management approach uses farming techniques that are more applicable to the rainforest environment. These techniques are developed through an understanding of the ecosystem and allow the production of valuable resources, but still conserve the rainforest.

Fig 1. Loss Of Tropical Forests In Developing Regions, 1980-90
Area Deforested (millions Of Hectares; Annual Average)

(Or why do developing countries want to exploit their forests?)
Industries Based On Products Or End Use Export Export Of Luxury Furniture Construction Including: Shipbuilding Furniture Railway Construction Used As Fuel Construction Furniture Joinery Packaging Transport Mining Matches Tool-Making Used As Fuel Printing, Packaging Packing, Containers Printing Printing, Construction Mining Toolmaking Communications Charcoal Production Fuel Wood Food Production For Home use and export

Large Unsawn Logs

10 8 6 4

1.5 1.0 0.5

2 0 0
Latin America And The Caribbean Asia SubSaharan Africa Sawmills Sawnwood

Area Deforested
Source: WWF (1992)

Rate Of Deforestation
Small Unsawn Logs

Waste-Shavings, Sawdust Paper Cardboard Newsprint Fibreboard Pit Props Poles Sawmills Cut Poles Residues (Stumps, Diseased Or Damaged Wood, Branchwood, Leaves, Bark Edible Products

The Threat To Rainforests
The major causes of rainforest destruction are:1. International debt. 2. National policies e.g. transmigration schemes in Indonesia, government subsidies for ranching, incentives for growth of cash crops. 3. Fuel wood collection. 4. Demand for timber e.g. mahogany, teak from developed countries. 5. Overpopulation. 6. Base for economic development. (see Fig 2). These root causes accelerate the agents of destruction:1. Non-traditional small scale shifting agriculture. 2. Cattle ranching. 3. Plantation for cash crops. 4. Logging. 5. Development projects e.g. mining, road building.
Exam Hint - The Fact Sheet will not cover the causes and effects of deforestation in detail. However, it is important that students have a clear understanding of the complex interrelationships that occur during deforestation (see Factsheet on Tropical Rainforests). The consequences of rainforest destruction are summarised in Fig. 3.



Chips, Fuelwood Briquettes

Food Processing Industries

Fruits, Nuts, Oils

Forests can provide a huge range of products which form the basis of many industries. As a result the governments of developing countries have been under great pressure to exploit the economic potential of their virgin forests. In practice this has usually meant clear-felling or selective felling and clearance through burning; sustainable management is more difficult, time consuming and, in the short term, expensive.

Fig 3. Consequences Of Deforestation
Migration to cities Economic loss (Medicines, Foods, Industrial Products)



k Temperature



k Insolation/

Homes, income, food, culture. k Disease

Loss of biodiversity


Cloud cover

Habitat destruction,wildlife disturbance, species extinction



Forest Cover


Rapid Succession. Tropical rainforests show a distinctive layered structure as illustrated in Figure 4. These are herbaceous plants that grow on other plants without damaging them. topography (altitude. 1.Exam questions which focus on the kind of data presented in Fig 5 fall into two categories: descriptive questions. In addition. Recent research has shown this to be over simplistic but the key point remains that tropical soils are much more vunerable to exposure than their temperate counterparts. will result in rapid leaching and erosion. insolation) and non-living components of soils (nutrient content). The biomass of a tropical rainforest is on average 700 tonnes/ha. within 3 to 4 years (depending on the region) a secondary growth of vegetation will become established and the soil humus content replenished. not in the soil. require candidates to show that they understand the significance of the differences in the nutrient content of the two types of forest. some bamboo species can grow by 1m per day. This rapid rate of succession is a result of the high growth rates of the rainforest vegetation. cleared areas of rainforest has very Red Clay Layer Due To Iron Compounds. even in small gaps. Exam Hint . with rainforests containing up to 300 plant species per hectare. 3. or physical and chemical elements of the environment.Biotic components. Abiotic components. The classical picture is therefore of a thin.Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach Geo Factsheet The Ecosystem Concept An ecosystem is an interacting community of living things existing in and interacting with a particular non-living environment. like any others. most nutrients are in the vegetation (roots. The total biotic component. nutrient and humus-poor soil. This means nutrients are quickly leached out of the ecosystem making them unavailable to vegetation. Better candidates always show an understanding of soil processes hence. which simply ask for a comparison of parts of the data. Removal of the forest canopy.Many students fail to realise that tropical rainforests do show daily temperature variations. Exam Hint . Tropical Rainforest Ecosystems Tropical rainforest ecosystems are significantly different to other forest ecosystems. in temperate latitudes decomposition can take more than two years. besides a brief description. • Provide large amounts of leaf litter. Marks are often lost for a lack of detail when describing ecosystems. fruits). stems. The resultant leaf litter is decomposed within 3 to 4 months by the high density of detritivores and decomposers in the shallow topsoil (around 3 cm deep). These are the non-living. recognise that soil types may be changed as a result of even minor alterations to such processes. Candidates very frequently lose marks by answering descriptively when interpretation is required. at higher altitudes and latitudes rainforest even show noticeable seasons. vary greatly depending upon factors such as parent material.Tropical soils. Due to the low nutrient content of tropical rainforest soil. 1. along with significant micro climate differences between the upper tree and shrub layer. No Marked productivity. For example. Rapid nutrient recycling is assisted by the high average daily temperature (28-30 oC) and high humidity of the climate in tropical rainforests. plants and microbes existing within the abiotic components. Rapid overall rate of growth produced by the high levels of solar energy at tropical latitudes. Vulnerable Soils. • Limits the amount of sunlight reaching ground level. This layered structure: • Reduces the impact of rainfall reaching ground level. vertical layers of vegetation). climate (temperature. including animals. This abundant biomass is due to three main factors: 1. This structure also provides a vast number of potential habitats for plant and animals. 2 . as a result of very rapid recycling. Rainforest vegetation is constantly shedding leaves. Percentage Of Nutrients In The Vegetation Of Tropical And Temperate Woodlands Tropical Lowland Cote D'Ivoire N P K Ca Mg 100 Kg ha-1 2600 25 120 220 80 Temperate Deciduous W. many forest trees support other vegetation including numerous epiphytes such as orchids. Released nutrients are then taken up by the shallow roots of the vegetation. 2. 2. whereas biomass of a temperate forest it is around 130 tonnes/ha. Rainforest vegetation therefore relies on removing nutrients directly from the humus at a the top of the soil profile. An ecosystem is therefore composed of two components: 2. Exam Hint . along with the high temperatures and levels of precipitation. Abundant amounts of water 3. or total organic component is known as the biomass. They have the following combination of characteristics: Fig 5. Germany N P K Ca Mg Kg ha-1 8196 2777 479 264 43 4. Rapid nutrient cycling (see Figure 5). aspect). climate(temperature and precipitation variation) and soil type. compared to temperate forests that only contain about 25. leaves. low levels ofHorizons. interpretation questions which. These are the living elements. For example. Multi-layered structure of a tropical rainforest 40 (m) 0 N P K Ca Mg N P K Ca Mg A 30 B C D E 20 10 0 Root Zone Layers And Zones Through a Lowland Forest In rainforests. In comparison.Students are expected to be able to describe ecosystems with reference to the vegetation present (variety of species. precipitation patterns and vegetation cover. Rapid Nutrient Cycling. The high temperatures and rainfall result in very high rates of weathering of the ferrisols present. branches. Multi-layered vegetation. However. Elements In Vegetation 80 60 40 20 Fig 4. Exam Hint .

1.1 43. Protect natural saplings which emerge in gaps. Brazil has 100 million hectares of cerrado i. however. Many tropical countries have low population densities and large areas of unused land e.1 19.2 2. There are a wide variety of ecosystem based management techniques. avoids sudden changes. The reserve protects over 1000 bird species. seed trees. Plantations are an attractive option since. use all the planted land efficiently. 7. 4. Plantations effectively: a. Plantations are densely stacked i. Set the annual yield at the maximum sustainable yield. management aims to minimise unnatural gaps within the forest canopy. in the intensity and volume of rainfall hitting vulnerable soils (see Table 1) and avoids drastic fluctuations in soil or canopy temperatures (see Table 2). 3 . whilst the majority of the area is now managed without exploitation. at all costs. 5. thus protecting the micro-climatic effect of the forest and the vulnerable.9 3. mahogany. This eliminates raindrop erosion. Use natural regeneration not planting. Productivity is therefore high e. an area of 300.2 25. land which has been cleared and roughly grazed but is now covered with scrub. gap size should be closely related to the growth characteristics of the sapling. reduce impact velocity of rainfall on soil b. By using techniques based on an understanding of the unique characteristics of tropical rainforest ecosystems.e. This is equal to the volume of timber which can be removed from an area annually without damaging the forest’s ability to produce the same volume in the succeeding year or any yet thereafter. Plantations have none of the biological diversity of the original forest and their main function is to divert attention from naturally growing mahogany etc. Minimise damage caused by felling – most destruction of forest comes through access roads and damage caused when trees are felled and dragged out. large areas of the rainforest can be conserved and exploited sustainably. If no natural saplings emerge then native species should be planted. Highland areas of the Reserve are protected as watersheds but within the sustainablymanaged areas a population of 600 Indians are allowed to selectively fell a wide range of species.g. for example. Case Study.9 16. Maintain the canopy or create gaps which would naturally occur. Soil Losses (kg/ha) Density Of Vegetation Cover (% Of The Area Which Is Covered) Rainfall Intensity (mm/h) 0-10 10-20 >20 20 to 30 50 to 60 60 to 70 80 to 90 35m / 100m yr 3 100m X 100m = 1ha 1m3 = 1 tonne 6. Relationship between the loss of soil and rainfall intensity in northern Thailand beneath different vegetation densities on more or less forested experimental plots. natural pollinating and dispersal organisms and the maintenance of soil fertility. 2. regulate the rate at which water reaches the soil via stemflow and leafdrip c.6 4 19. Other approaches can then be used in conjunction with the ecosystem approach. Peru aquaculture and agroforestry based upon fruit and rubber trees intercropped with maize. Sustainable management is when the level of exploitation is not greater than the ability of the ecosystem to replace itself.g. Manu Biosphere Reserve. Plantations are man-made forests usually consisting of one valuable and even aged tree species e.e. in Sabah strips are left along water courses equal to 5% of the logged area. Gmelina arborea acheives a mean annual growth of 35m3 ha-1 yr -1 100m Table 2. 6. to key wildlife food trees – this means that a detailed knowledge of food webs within the ecosystem is required. In Uganda 20% is regarded as the optimal logging-free area.8 28. consist of one species (making marketing easier) which can be carefully matched with the site conditions. This maintains micro climate. 8. Peru The Reserve covers 1-5 million ha and. It can be seen that these practices take into account the extremely high species diversity of tropical forest areas – removing just one species in an area where up to three hundred species may be present in one hectare does not make sense.9 9.1 2. Do not fell just one or a very small number of species – currently only a very small fraction of utilisable species are used and this means that very large areas are often logged for the extraction of just a very few trees. Avoid damage. most sustainable management practices will usually mimic natural processes: 1. The ability of a partly logged forest to recover depends upon sufficient survival of: seedlings.g.Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach Geo Factsheet The Ecosystem Management Concept Management techniques are usually aimed at improving forests for a particular use. 2.6 10. Maintain some areas unlogged as refuge areas for animal and plant species – e. nutrient poor soils. reduce the total volume of water which reaches the soil (because of evapouration from leaves).000 ha provides a zone in which sustainable management is attempted.g. in virgin forest to maintain national timber production levels. practice Manu Biosphere Reserve. Similarly. 3. 110 species of bats and 16000 plants but also contains important populations of top predators.

The non-timber value of tropical forests often far exceeds the timber value Gene Pool. maize and green legumes and provide corridors along which species can move to colonise logged forest. Widespread harvesting from individual trees Butterfly Farming. This also simulates the natural multi-structure of the rainforest. Asia Exam Hint . stored in a retrieval system. Agro-forestry. Soil-enriching trees. December 1992 Acknowledgements. or transmitted. Timber crops can be grown along with food and cash crops. for example rattan. air temp o WIND o RAIN SOLAR RADIATION o CANOPY INTERCEPTION THROUGHFALL FOG DRIP l l l l EXTENSIVE ROOT SYSTEM LITTERFALL STEMFLOW Table 3: Sustainable Rainforest -based Industries Activity Craft items. Geo Press 10 St Pauls Square Birmingham B3 1QU Geopress Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students. This means that less pressure is placed on virgin land for agriculture. S. The Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. Geo Factsheet Fig 7. Products and carvings from sustainable bark and wood Brazil nut oil production Rubber. How does the combination of trees and crops fit in with our knowledge of the rainforest ecosystem? Bibliography WWF (1992): Forests: Types.. such as those with nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots can be planted to reduce the fallow time needed by the soil. Ecuador. Activities of visitors are very closely controlled Pharmaceutical group Merk & Co. This encourages conservation Ecotourism. air temp k Min. provided that their school is a registered subscriber. The trees provide shade for the low growing cash crops and increase productivity per unit area. This involves removal of a limited number of trees in a particular area. of varying size and age. Cash crops used in this way include cocoa. so maintaining habitat diversity.E. Agroforestry In Guatemala Sauco Tree (Sambucus Mescicana) Over Maize Or Potato Fields ASSOCIATED MICROCLIMATIC CONDITIONS l Radiant energy l Air movement l Evapotranspiration l Max. This employs local Indians organising tourist groups limited in size. Intact habitats are needed to farm the largest. most valuable butterflies. without the prior permission of the publisher. This Geo Factsheet was researched and written by Kevin Byrne and James Sharpe.Be explicit in your explanations. This involves combining trees spatially and/or temporally with agricultural crops and/or animals (see Figure 7). This technique is used to develop community forests which maintains the original forest ecosystem and also provide local people with medicinal plants and timber for furniture and building. in any other form or by any other means. Provides money for conservation and increases understanding of rainforests without damaging the environment. rubber. status and value Data Support sheet 29. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced. to conserve the rainforest species diversity. New Guinea Island. have paid US $1 million to a scientific and conservation charity to screen unexplored plant and animal species ISSN 1351-5136 4 l ASSOCIATED SOIL CONDITIONS k Organic matter k Cation exchange capacity k Nutrient concentrations k Soil moisture k Moisture retention l Surface temperature k Soil Stabilization ROOT DECOMPOSITION NUTRIENT UPTAKE . Table 3 illustrates some examples of sustainable management techniques used in tropical rainforests around the world. Providing a potential resource for future medicines and agricultural crops Global Example Bilum bags made from tulip bark by the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea Kayapo Indians of Brazil Kuna Indians of the offshore islands of Panama WWF community butterfly farm. who must have a trained guide.Managing Tropical Rainforest-The Ecosystem Approach Controlled cutting.