Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Tropical secondary forests

  • Sandra Brown (a1) and Ariel E. Lugo (a2)

The literature on tropical secondary forests, defined as those resulting from human disturbance (e.g. logged forests and forest fallows), is reviewed to address questions related to their extent, rates of formation, ecological characteristics, values and uses to humans, and potential for management. Secondary forests are extensive in the tropics, accounting for about 40% of the total forest area and their rates of formation are about 9 million ha yr−1. Geographical differences in the extent, rates of formation and types of forest being converted exist.

Secondary forests appear to accumulate woody plant species at a relatively rapid rate but the mechanisms involved are complex and no clear pattern emerged. Compared to mature forests, the structure of secondary forest vegetation is simple, although age, climate and soil type are modifying factors. Biomass accumulates rapidly in secondary forests, up to 100 t ha−1 during the first 15 yr or so, but history of disturbance may modify this trend. Like biomass, high rates of litter production are established relatively quickly, up to 12–13 t ha−1 yr−1 by age 12–15 yr. And, in younger secondary forests (< 20 yr), litter production is a higher fraction of the net primary productivity than stemwood biomass production. More organic matter is pro duced and transferred to the soil in younger secondary forests than is stored in above-ground vegetation. The impact of this on soil organic matter is significant and explains why the recovery of organic matter in the soil under secondary forests is relatively fast (50 yr or so). Nutrients are accumulated rapidly in secondary vegetation, and are returned quickly by litterfall and decomposition for uptake by roots.

We propose a model of the gains and losses, yields and costs, and benefits and tradeoffs to people from the current land-use changes occurring in the tropics. When the conversion of forest lands to secondary forests and agriculture is too fast or land-use stages are skipped, society loses goods and services. To avoid such a loss, we advocate management of tropical forest lands within a landscape perspective, a possibility in the tropics because land tenures and development projects are often large.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

A. O. Aweto 1981b. Secondary succession and soil fertility restoration in south-western Nigeria. II. Soil fertility and restoration. Journal of Ecology 69:709–614.

F. A. Bazzaz & S. T. A. Pickett 1980. Physiological ecology of tropical succession: a comparative review. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 11:287310.

C. W. Berish & J. J. Ewel 1988. Root development in simple and complex tropical successional ecosystems. Plant and Soil 106:7384.

S. Brown & A. E. Lugo 1982. The storage and production of organic matter in tropical forests and their role in the global carbon cycle. Biotropica 14:161187.

J. S. Denslow 1987. Tropical rainforest gaps and tree species diversity. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 18:421451.

J. J. Ewel 1976. Litterfall and leaf decomposition in a tropical forest succession in eastern Guatemala. Journal of Ecology 64:293308.

J. J. Ewel , (ed.). 1980. Tropical succession. Biotropica 12(supplement):l95.

J. J. Ewel 1986. Designing agricultural ecosystems for the humid tropics. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 17:245271.

D. J. Greenland & J. M. L. Kowal 1960. Nutrient content of the moist tropical forest of Ghana. Plant and Soil 12(2):154174.

P. Greig-Smith 1952. Ecological observations on degraded and secondary forest in Trinidad, British West Indies. I. General features on the vegetation. Journal of Ecology 40:283315.

J. R. Hall & D. U. U. Okali 1979. A structural and floristic analysis of woody fallow vegetation near Ibadan, Nigeria. Journal of Ecology 67:321346.

R. D. Hart 1980. A natural ecosystem analog approach to the design of a successful crop system for tropical forest environments. Biotropica 12(supplement):7382.

C. F. Jordan & E. G. Farnworth 1982. Natural vs. plantation forests: a case study of land reclamation strategies for the humid tropics. Environmental Management 6(6):485492.

M. L. Lebrón 1980. Physiological plant ecology: some contributions to the understanding of secondary succession in tropical lowland rainforest. Biotropica 12(supplement):3133.

T. A. Lovejoy 1985. Rehabilitation of degraded tropical forest lands. The Environmentalist 5:18.

A. E. Lugo , M. J. Sanchez & S. Brown 1986. Land use and organic carbon content of some sub tropical soils. Plant and Soil 96:185196.

A. E. Lugo , S. Brown & J. Chapman 1988. An analytical review of production rates and stemwood biomass of tropical forest plantations. Forest Ecology and Management 23:179200.

P. G. Murphy & A. E. Lugo 1986. Ecology of tropical dry forest. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 17:6788.

P. H. Nye 1961. Organic matter and nutrient cycles under moist tropical forest. Plant and Soil 13(4):333346.

P. A. Opler , H. G. Baker & G. W. Frankie 1980. Plant reproductive characteristics during secondary succession in neotropical lowland forest ecosystems. Biotropica 12(supplement):4046.

P. S. Ramakrishnan & O. P. Toky 1981. Soil nutrient status of hill agro-ecosystems and recovery pattern after slash and burn agriculture (jhum) in north-eastern India. Plant and Soil 60(1):4164.

R. Ross 1954. Ecological studies on the rain forest of southern Nigeria. III. Secondary succession in the Shasha reserve. Journal of Ecology 42:259282.

R. L. Sanford Jr, J. Saldarriaga , K. E. Clark , C. Uhl & R. Herrera 1985. Amazon rainforest fires. Science 227:5355.

M. J. Swift , A. Russell-Smith & T. J. Perfect 1981. Decomposition and mineral-nutrient dynamics of plant litter in a regenerating bush-fallow in sub-humid tropical Nigeria. Journal of Ecology 69:981995.

O. P. Toky & P. S. Ramakrishnan 1983b. Secondary succession following slash and burn agri culture in north-eastern India. II. Nutrient cycling. Journal of Ecology 71:747757.

C. Uhl 1987. Factors controlling succession following slash-and-burn agriculture in Amazonia. Journal of Ecology 75(2):377407.

C. Uhl & K. Clark 1983. Seed ecology of selected Amazon Basin successional species emphasizing forest seed banks, seed longevity, and seed germination triggers. Botanical Gazette 144:419425.

P. M. Vitousek 1984. Litterfall, nutrient cycling, and nutrient limitation in tropical forests. Ecology 65:285298.

P. L. Weaver , R. A. Birdsey & A. E. Lugo 1987. Soil organic matter in secondary forests of Puerto Rico. Biotropica 19:1723.

G. Williams-Linera 1983. Biomass and nutrient content of two successional stages of tropical wet forest in Uxpanda, Mexico. Biotropica 15:275284.

T. R. Zapata & M. T. K. Arroyo 1978. Plant reproductive ecology of a secondary deciduous forest in Venezuela. Biotropica 10:221230.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Tropical Ecology
  • ISSN: 0266-4674
  • EISSN: 1469-7831
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-tropical-ecology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 95 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 969 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.