on the site. Habitats that appear well beyond recovery can be restored if the seed sources are present.
Intensive cleaning up of the Mesoamerican dry forest agroscape during the last two to three decades is leading to the final extirpation of species and habitats that survived the first wave of megafaunal extinction by hunters 9,000 years ago, the extensive agriculture that began 5,000 years ago, and the ever more intensive agriculture that began 500 years ago. Either we act very soon or we will witness the elimination of many species that have persisted through many seemingly more severe perturbations than the contemporary, innocuous-appearing clearing of the last fencerows.
Conserved areas of dry forest wildlands will be rich in plant and animal opportunistic species and may well be the only places where most of today’s weeds survive. Weeds may be the most information-rich carriers of the genetic information for environmental toughness—information of obvious value in genetic engineering for crop species in harsh habitats.
Fires and invasion by grasses are the most serious contemporary ecological threats to the restoration and maintenance of dry forest wildlands. Properly manipulated, domestic animals may be the best tools for managing these threats, and they may even pay for their own maintenance: they mow the competing grass, they eat the fuel for the next dry season’s grass fires, and they disperse tree seeds far into pastures.
Dry forest conservation requires not only restoration but also explicit efforts to eliminate the various species initially introduced for agricultural or ranching purposes.
The biggest and a perpetual problem in dry forest management lies in deciding which areas of the wildland will be managed in what manner and to what end. Yes, it can be returned to a natural state, given the availability of seed sources. But which natural state do you want? On a time scale of at least thousands of years, the state to which it returns or in which it remains depends on many factors, such as the initial condition of the site, the species that arrived, and the order in which they arrived.
What means can be used to restore a tropical dry forest habitat?
Initiate and maintain a heavy flow of biological information, both biocultural and economic, from the site into the neighboring social system. The process of restoration, and the biology and interactions of the organisms being restored, must become as familiar to the region as are its irrigation projects, school development, and health programs. This task is both more difficult and more sustainable if the conservation effort is focused on habitats, interactions, and caterpillars rather than on redwoods, lions, and condors.
Stop man-made fires, hunting, cattle ranching, and other free-ranging perturbations. That is to say, give the site back to the remaining or adjacent dry forest organisms to recolonize by their own means. However, while this multihectare regeneration appears to be natural, such megacolonization of pastures and fields does not occur anywhere in nature. It is also not risk-free; neighboring blocks of