Spatial and environmental constraints on natural forest regeneration in the degraded landscape of Hong Kong

Sawaid Abbas, Janet E. Nichol, Jinlong Zhang, Gunter A. Fischer, Man Sing Wong, Syed M. Irteza

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical forests are the main reservoirs for global biodiversity and climate control. As secondary forests are now more widespread than primary forests, understanding their functioning and role in the biosphere is increasingly important. This includes understanding how they achieve stability, how they accumulate species and build biodiversity and how they cycle nutrients and carbon. This study investigates how we can restore tropical secondary forests to resemble high biomass, highly biodiverse and stable ecosystems seen today only in primary, undisturbed forests. The study used historic aerial photographs and recent high-resolution satellite images from 1945 to 2014 to map forest patches with five age categories, from 14-years to over 70-years, in Hong Kong's degraded tropical landscape. A forest inventory comprising 28 quadrats provided a rare opportunity to relate patterns of species composition at different stages during the succession with topographic and soil characteristics. The topographic variables accounted for 15% of the variance in species abundance, and age of forest stands explained 29%. Species richness rapidly increased after the first 15 years, but was lower in old-growth, than in medium age forest. This is attributed to the inability of late-successional species to disperse into the young forests as the natural dispersal agents (birds, mammals) have been lost. Light-loving pioneers which are unable to tolerate the shade of older forests, cannot regenerate in their own shade, therefore species diversity declines after a few decades. For ecosystem restoration in tropical secondary forests, introduction of late-successional species is necessary to assist natural succession, given the absence of native fauna, seed dispersal agents, and the surrounding altered environment. We also show that remote sensing can play a pivotal role in understanding the recovery and functioning of secondary forest regeneration as its contribution to the biosphere is increasingly important.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141760
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021


  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Degraded landscape
  • Environmental constraints
  • Multi-temporal
  • Remote sensing
  • Spatial patterns
  • Succession: secondary forest
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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