Attractiveness to People and Its Consequences

Due to their seasonality, gentle topographic relief, relatively rich soils, and proximity to tropical coasts where abundant food and water sources were available, TDFs attracted human settlers and hunters from very early times. Their rich and varied mineral deposits drew entrepreneurs and industrialists as well. As a result, the transformation and degradation of these forests often has gone on for long periods of time.

Prior to the onset of major human impact, TDFs were rich in tall canopy and emergent trees of great value for their dense, hard, and often beautiful and fragrant wood, such as Sandalwood (Santalum album). These were selectively harvested for local construction and, later, for international timber markets. Only relatively few people, rarely from the local community, benefited as a rule.360

Once the tree canopy giants were removed, the TDFs were usually subjected to progressive or wholesale cycles of transformation for cattle grazing or, more rarely, farmland or extractive production of fuel wood and charcoal (e.g., in southwest Madagascar, see below). This process—dating mostly from the late 1800s— often consisted of repeated burning and clearing until there remained little or none of the original assemblages of woody plants and soil-borne seed banks. Faunal and microbial biota also changed as a consequence.

Nowadays, TDF fragments and adjacent areas are mostly used for extensive livestock

360 Roth, 2001.

grazing of limited economic value or biodiversity interest. In some areas, the surviving TDFs near cities are disappearing to make way for coastal hotel complexes and unplanned urban sprawl. In the few places where some TDF remains but is neither protected nor currently sought after for "development," TDF fragments are still subject to selective logging for their slow-growing but often exceedingly valuable timber [e.g., Cordia, mahogany, teak, sandalwood, and yellow wood (Podocarpus spp.)]. This short-sighted exploitation of the most valuable remaining trees constitutes a flagrant example of "artificial negative selection" which, in TDF and other endangered forests, surely should be controlled and re-legislated, or better yet halted altogether until natural regeneration or active restoration have had some time to permit forest recovery.

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