By: Jean-François Molino and Daniel Sabatier


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The number of tree species in tropical rainforests is greater in areas where the forest has undergone ‘intermediate disturbances’ — such as limited-scale logging or naturally occurring gaps in the forest canopy — according to a study carried out in a forest in French Guiana.

Jean-François Molino and Daniel Sabatier studied more than 17,000 trees and found that tree diversity is higher in areas of ‘intermediate disturbances’ than in either untouched or intensively logged areas.

According to a press release from the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD), the study has “resolved a controversy” over whether disturbance levels affect tree diversity. The new research, they say, “calls partly into question the results obtained in 1999 by a US team in Panama”, which found that disturbance levels had no effect on tree diversity.

But Molino is cautious about using the results of the research published in the 23 November issue of Science, to help improve the management and conservation of tropical rainforests. “The study was on a very local scale and it is very difficult to extrapolate to larger areas,” he says.

Reference: Science 294, 1702 (2001)