Tropical forest is one of the most productive and complex ecosystems on the planet. Approximately 65% to 75% of all terrestrial species are restricted to and depend on tropical forest. Apart from its rich biodiversity, tropical forest plays a crucial role in wider ecosystem functions. It contributes to climate regulation and acts as a carbon sink, storing as much as 46% of the world’s terrestrial carbon.
Despite its vital functions, tropical forest is disappearing at a rapid pace. From the beginning of the 20th century almost half of the total tropical forest cover has been destroyed. Between 2000 and 2005 over seven million hectares of tropical forest were lost, and it is estimated that during the last 10 years, primary forest has been declining by approximately 0.4% annually. The main reason behind such accelerated deforestation rate is growing demand for arable land and timber. In many places, tropical forest has been displaced by complex landscapes consisting of agricultural fields and forest patches under different levels of succession. In the areas where agricultural land has been abandoned (for example, due to poor soil quality) tropical forest is starting to regenerate as secondary forest. It has been estimated that approximately 60% of today’s tropical forest is either degraded or secondary. Consequently, secondary forest is becoming more important and has even been described as the forest of the future. However, significant habitat fragmentation may limit the natural succession and regeneration of isolated forest patches. A major problem in regeneration is associated with seedling and sapling recruitment, which is crucial for successful regeneration but strongly limited by seed dispersal. Therefore, regeneration of a forest demands the coupling of seed dispersal and seedling establishment processes. Generally, fragmentation changes the landscape structure, decreases environmental quality of the habitat and therefore, modifies ecological processes. This then accelerates biodiversity loss.
Forest in Mauritius
Mauritius has retained less than 1% of its good quality native vegetation cover and lost 46% of its native vertebrate fauna. The remaining wildlife is strongly associated with native vegetation which is invaded by exotic species. At least 47 species are highly invasive and cause native habitat degradation. Additionally, numerous exotic animal species cause destruction to native plants, their fruits or seeds, and also spread invasive plant species. Seed dispersal is the most vital part of tropical forest dynamics. The arrival and establishment of seedlings will dictate the gene flow, recruitment rates and species turnover. This in turn will affect community structure and composition. In fragmented landscapes of disturbed tropical forest, seed dispersal is crucial for regeneration mainly because the seed bank within the soil has been lost or become unviable.
The Forest Regeneration Project
Our project aims to aid forest regeneration by harvesting seeds, seedlings and cuttings of remnant populations of rare plant species and propagate them in the nursery. Once established, the plants will be planted in forest areas to increase their population and ensure their survival. We also aim to plant fast growing endemic fruiting trees to attract fruit bats - the only major seed disperser in Mauritius - and initiate passive regeneration of the degraded forest areas. Through regular weeding and removal of exotic and highly invasive plants we will ensure that the forest area has suitable conditions to regrow and regenerate in order to sustain endemic animal species in the future. It is a long lasting project which will increase protected areas in Mauritius and create healthy habitat in which endemic animals can survive.
As part of this project you will be involved with:
Surveying remnant forested areas which are home to rare plants and may still shelter presumably extinct species.
The areas will be mapped and their species diversity recorded.
Collecting seed, seedlings and cuttings to manage in the nursery to ensure their survival.
Removal of invasive plant species and preparing the ground for planting endemics.
It is physically demanding project but you can choose which part you want to be involve in. It is Monday to Friday day time work with flexible hours (depending on the activity). You will need: