Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
The deforestation and degradation of the Amazon ecosystem have important global implications. Conservation groups have responded by working to establish national parks and biological reserves in Amazonia. Meanwhile, scientists have been attempting to document the types and frequency of both natural and human-induced disturbances in Amazonia and the capacity of its ecosystems to recover from disturbances. Central to this ecological research is the question, How much can Amazon forests be abused and still recover? As discussed herein, forest communities in the Amazon reform naturally following natural disturbances; however, forest regeneration is slow and uncertain following some of the larger-scale, more-intensive human-induced disturbances that are becoming increasingly common in the area. In such cases, humans may have to change hats and become restorers rather than exploiters.
There is a tendency to believe that the Amazon rain forest has existed in a pristine, cathedral-like state for tens of thousands or even millions of years and that this forest is just now being disturbed for the first time because of the development activities of modern human beings. There is ample reason to believe, however, that disturbance has always been a common feature of Amazon forest ecology.
Winds causing forest treefalls and forest fires have probably been the most important natural disturbances during Amazon forest history. Several studies have shown that treefall disturbances are common in Amazon forests. In fact, it would