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How robust are rainforests against slash-and-burn clearance? A recent study claims that they are highly resilient, citing prehistoric evidence for the regeneration of forests after widespread disruption by humans (see History shows fragile forest to be a myth)

In these two letters to Science, researchers dispute the significance of this finding. Clive Hambler of the University of Oxford’s zoology department counters the notion, saying that the rainforests we see now could be substantially impoverished, and that the study could mislead policy makers and derail conservation efforts.

Bruce Beehler and colleagues at the Melanesia Centre for Biodiversity Conservation in Washington DC, United States, say that in many regions, wood extraction techniques are devastating forests, making regeneration virtually impossible. The authors add, however, that the activities of many subsistence forest communities are beneficial, and set them apart as forest stewards. 

Link to full letters by Hambler and by Beehler et al in Science

Reference: Science 305, 943 (2004)

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