Tropical forests disappear rapidly because of deforestation, yet they have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned lands. We analyze how 12 forest attributes recover during secondary succession, and assess the underlying biophysical and social drivers, using 77 chronosequence sites across the Neotropics and West Africa. Tropical forests are highly resilient to low-intensity land use; after 20 years, forest attributes attain 78% (33-100%) of their old-growth values. Recovery to 90% of old-growth values is fastest for soil and plant functioning, intermediate for structure and species diversity, and slowest for biomass and species composition. We show how biophysical drivers (rainfall, temperature, pH) and social drivers (landscape forest cover, previous land use) affect forest recovery and discuss the implications for ecosystem restoration.
tropical forest, secondary succession, drivers, climate, soil, restoration