Yes. Nature has always been able to rebuild itself, but it would take a very, very long time. In Brazil, for example, experts estimate that an area about as big as 11 football fields is cleared from the rainforest every minute. Compare that to the amount of time it would take the trees covering such an area to grow back.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History held a symposium that presented the possibility of rain forest regrowth, which would help counter the loss of biodiversity currently underway. Research indicates that the regrowth occurs at a relatively quick rate, “The forest canopy closes after 15 years. After 20 years, about half of the original biomass weight has grown back.”
A story in the New Scientist describes a study of just that – how long it would take for a rainforest to regenerate. The verdict – an astounding 4,000 years. Some aspects, such as plants whose seeds are dispersed by animals, can return in as little as 65 years. Shade-loving species will take longer, about 160 years. But for the endemic species (unique to that rainforest) that have been isolated into small remaining plots of forest to spread back, the scientists’ model predicted the big number.
These are all interesting answers, but it seems they are operating under the assumption that the rainforest as we know it is an ecosystem that formed without human manipulation and modification. There are a variety of studies and evidence that suggest that the Amazon is basically a garden run amuck–however this is not a very popular or widespread view.
One line of evidence is the layer of terra-preta that exists throughout much of the Amazon. Terra preta is dark soil, rich in organic matter unlike much of the highly weathered tropical soils, that formed through a mixture of charcoal, bone and manure. Soils are a highly indiciative of a land’s history, and terra preta indicates widespread human involvement in forest management in the Amazon starting about 2500 years ago, to about 1000 years ago.
Understandably, however, starting down this line of reasoning that the Amazon is indeed a product in many ways of human modification, makes many concerned that the forest will become less valued and will detract from the many good reasons to work to preserve the biodiversity and extent of the Amazon.
Just some food for thought.
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