Tropical forests in a changing environment


S Wright

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Trends in Ecology and Evolution


Understanding and mitigating the impact of an ever-increasing population and global economic activity on tropical forests is one of the great challenges currently facing biologists, conservationists and policy makers. Tropical forests currently face obvious regional changes, both negative and positive, and uncertain global changes. Although deforestation rates have increased to unprecedented levels, natural secondary succession has reclaimed approximately 15% of the area deforested during the 1990s. Governments have also protected 18% of the remaining tropical moist forest; however, unsustainable hunting continues to threaten many keystone mammal and bird species. The structure and dynamics of old-growth forests appear to be rapidly changing, suggesting that there is a pantropical response to global anthropogenic forcing, although the evidence comes almost exclusively from censuses of tree plots and is controversial. Here, I address ongoing anthropogenic change in tropical forests and suggest how these forests might respond to increasing anthropogenic pressure.