Reasons to Restore

It must be recognised, however, that what remains of TDF today are not especially attractive to most people, and only rarely do they capture the attention of tourists. Their low annual productivity makes TDF of minor interest to foresters or farmers. Therefore, lobbying for their conservation, and, more so still, their restoration, is problematic. However, biodiversity criteria alone more than justify the need for greater efforts, especially at the landscape and ecoregional scales. What's more, the economic perspectives for restored tropical dry forests are by no means negligible, even if the most valuable timber trees and game animals have in most cases long ago been removed.

Many plants in tropical dry forests are known to be of value for nontimber products, including medicines, biopharmaceuticals, food products, potential sources for crop improvement (e.g., an endemic wild rice species in New Caledonia), perfumes, cosmetics, etc. Also, TDFs have significant economic value if managed under multipurpose, multiuser forestry approaches, including the incorporation of innovative eco- and cultural tourism. Restoration should clearly play a major role in both scenarios, with community involvement built into these programmes.

Additionally, in urban or peri-urban zones, like those of Grande Terre, New Caledonia, restoration of native TDF is the obvious and most cost-effective approach to meeting growing demands for amenity plantings and green areas. The maintenance costs of climatically adapted ecosystems would surely be less than for conventional horticultural plantations of exotic species—and lawn grass!—and the aesthetic result could be well superior. Such garden forests, albeit confined to urban parks, roadside planting areas, and the like, could be a useful complement to educational efforts, and serve as gene banks for extra-urban or peri-urban restoration projects, where hectares of contiguous forest, or corridors among TDF fragments, are in need of seed and germ plasm.

Finally, with global warming and an overall trend toward drying in terrestrial systems, the plants, microorganisms and animals of tropical dry forests represent a wealth of genetic capital that should not be underestimated. These organisms can be anticipated to respond more readily to warming and desertification on a global scale than those adapted to humid tropical forests. Accordingly, they merit special attention from managers and engineers as well as public policy decision makers.

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