Tropical forest restoration: Tree islands as recruitment foci in degraded lands of Honduras

R. A. Zahawi, C. K. Augspurger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tropical forest recovery in pastures is slowed by a number of biotic and abiotic factors, including a lack of adequate seed dispersal and harsh microclimatic extremes. Accordingly, methods to accelerate forest recovery must address multiple impediments. Here, we evaluated the ability of "tree islands" to serve as "recruitment foci" in a two-year study at three sites in northern Honduras. Islands of three sizes (64, 16, and 4 m2) and at two distances to secondary forest (20 and 50 m) were created by planting 2 m tall vegetative stakes of two native species: Gliricidia sepium (Fabaceae) and Bursera simaruba (Burseraceae), each in monoculture. Open-pasture "islands" of equal sizes served as controls. Tree islands reduced temperature and light (PAR) extremes as compared to open pasture, creating a microenvironment more favorable to seedling establishment. Seed-dispersing birds (quantified at one site only) showed an overwhelming preference for islands; 160 visits were recorded to islands compared with one visit to open pasture. Additionally, frugivores visited large islands more often, and for longer time periods, than small islands, thereby increasing the likelihood of a dispersal event there. In total, 144 140 seeds belonging to 186 species were collected in islands; more than 80% were grasses. Tree islands increased zoochorous tree seed rain; seed density and species richness were greater in tree islands than in open pasture, and large islands had greater seed density than smaller islands (Gliricidia only), suggesting that they are more effective for restoration. Distance to forest did not affect seed rain. A total of 543 seedlings and 41 species established in islands; >85% were zoochorous. Seedling density did not differ among treatments (mean 0.2 seedlings/m2 for islands vs. 0.1 seedlings/m2 for pasture), although an increasing trend in tree islands over the course of two years suggests that seedling recruitment is accelerated there. Lastly, similar seedling densities were censused in the 1 m perimeter surrounding islands, suggesting that islands can expand outward into pasture. Planting vegetative stakes to create tree islands in pastures accelerates forest recovery by overcoming a number of impediments, and presents a simple, broadly applicable alternative for facilitating forest regeneration in abandoned pastures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-478
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Bursera simaruba
  • Cercas vivas
  • Gliricidia sepium
  • Living fences
  • Reforestation
  • Remnant trees
  • Restoration
  • Seed dispersal
  • Seed rain
  • Seedling establishment
  • Tropical pastures
  • Vegetative propagation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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