The potential to restore native woody plant richness and composition in a reforesting landscape: a modeling approach in the Ecuadorian Andes.

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Context: Natural regenerating forests are rapidly expanding in the tropics. Forest transitions have the potential to restore biodiversity. Spatial targeting of land use policies could improve the biodiversity benefits of reforesting landscapes. Objective: We explored the relative importance of landscape attributes in influencing the potential of tree cover increase to restore native woody plant biodiversity at the landscape scale. Methods: We developed land use scenarios that differed in spatial patterns of reforestation, using the Pangor watershed in the Ecuadorian Andes as a case study. We distinguished between reforestation through natural regeneration of woody vegetation in abandoned fallows and planted forests through managed plantations of exotic species on previously cultivated land. We simulated the restoration of woody plant biodiversity for each scenario using LANDIS-II, a process-based model of forest dynamics. A pair-case comparison of simulated woody plant biodiversity for each scenario was conducted against a random scenario. Results: Species richness in natural regenerating fallows was considerably higher when occurring in: (i) close proximity to remnant forests; (ii) areas with a high percentage of surrounding forest cover; and (iii) compositional heterogeneous landscapes. Reforestation at intermediate altitudes also positively affected restoration of woody plant species. Planted exotic pine forests negatively affected species restoration. Conclusions: Our research contributes to a better understanding of the recolonization processes of regenerating forests. We provide guidelines for reforestation policies that aim to conserve and restore woody plant biodiversity by accounting for landscape attributes.
Biodiversity restoration, Landscape planning, LANDIS-II, Planted forest, Reforestation