WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers working in Latin America say 20 years of research has given them new insights in how to produce better tropical forests during reforestation.
"Twenty years ago, we had almost no information about how to build a forest," said Jefferson Hall, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
"People either planted one of four non-native species -- teak, pine, eucalyptus or acacia -- or they used a trial-and-error process with other species that was not always successful.
"Now we can be smart about which trees we plant at a given site, and we understand much more about what motivates land owners and rural farmers to put this know-how to work."
Forests keep water clean, control soil erosion, store carbon, shelter animals and provide plants that offer pharmacological benefits, a Smithsonian release said Monday.
"Now the science behind tropical forest restoration is at a level of sophistication that reforestation projects can be planned to target multiple goals -- to store carbon, manage water and conserve biodiversity, buffer old-growth forests from destruction and provide a strong return on investment," Eldredge Bermingham, director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said.
Scientific reforestation is especially necessary in a world where half of the tropical forests are secondary forests growing on abandoned farm and pasture land, Smithsonian researchers said.