A 70-year perspective on tropical forest regeneration

Sawaid Abbas, Janet Elizabeth Nichol, Gunter A. Fischer

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Forested areas of the world decreased by 129 million hectare during the past quarter-century, and only 35 % of remainder is primary forest. Secondary forests are therefore relatively more important for biodiversity conservation, catchment protection, climate control, and the ecological services they provide. Many governments expend large resources on afforestation projects, which may not be supported by objective data on rates and pathways of natural succession in secondary forest. This paper describes a 70-year succession of tropical forest in Hong Kong under different management regimes including afforestation programs, frequent fire, and fire protection. From complete destruction of its forest during the Second World War, forest has established rapidly in areas where a shrub cover was able to colonize. The practice of afforestation as a nursery stage on degraded hillsides, for establishment of forest seedlings by natural invasion is not supported by the evidence, as when the native Pinus massoniana plantations were eliminated by disease during the 1970s, no forest or woody species were seen in the areas affected. In fact there was a reversion to grassland, which persisted there for almost three decades, until recent shrub invasion. The fastest period of forest regeneration, at 10.9% annually between 1989 and 2001, occurred when shrubland edge was greatest and forest was able to colonize across interfluves between linear-shaped riparian shrublands in valley bottoms. After 2001, succession to forest was slower, at 7.8% annually, as forest patches consolidated and edge habitats reduced. Effective forest management policies could include seeding of native shrubs extending linearly from established forest, to maximize edge length between woody species and grasslands, and planting of late successional species in areas where forest pioneers are in decline.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)544-552
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2016


  • Hong Kong
  • Secondary forest
  • Structural classification
  • Succession
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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