Tropical rainforests disturbed by prehistoric human activities have been able to regenerate extensively and the term 'virgin' may be being applied to forests still recovering from disruption thousands of years ago. Recent analyses of the great forests of Amazonia, the Congo basin and the Indo-Malayan region suggest that human activities have significantly modified forests in previous millennia.
In this article, K. J. Willis of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues argue that previous human influences on forests were far more extensive than is often thought — and were not insignificant compared to present-day impacts.
Forests are highly resilient to human impacts, they say, and regeneration is largely a matter of time. Information from archaeology and soil studies on how quickly forests can recover, and on differences in the forest before and after human disturbance, is crucial for long-term forest management and conservation in the tropics, they say.
Reference: Science 304, 402 (2004)