Tropical forest recovery: Legacies of human impact and natural disturbances

Tropical forest recovery: Legacies of human impact and natural disturbances


Land-use history interacts with natural forces to influence the severity of disturbance events and the rate and nature of recovery processes in tropical forests. This perspective article highlights several trends in tropical forest recovery processes emerging from recent literature.

Research goals & methods

Recovery of forest structure and composition is relatively rapid following disturbances that primarily impact forest canopies, such as hurricanes. Recovery is considerably slower following disturbances that heavily impact soils as well as aboveground vegetation, such as bull-dozing, heavy or long-term grazing, and severe fires, often with long-lasting effects on species composition. The landscape matrix plays a critical role in local recovery processes. Proximity of disturbed areas to remnant forest patches promotes more rapid recovery, which depends heavily on seed dispersal. Recovery of aboveground biomass is constrained by soil fertility and texture across regions as well as across soil types within a region.

Conclusions & takeaways

Despite evidence of rapid forest recovery following large-scale deforestation, many degraded areas of today’s tropics will require human assistance to recover forest structure, species composition, and species interactions typical of mature tropical forests. Restoration of soil fertility, in particular, may be a prerequisite for forest recovery on sites with severely degraded soils and presents a particular challenge for management.


Chazdon RL. Tropical forest recovery: legacies of human impact and natural disturbances. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. 2003;6:51–71. doi:10.1078/1433-8319-00042.


  • Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, United States