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Selection of tree species to preserve and restore biodiversity

In developing our reforestation project in Limay, Nicaragua, one of Taking Root’s core aims is to use reforestation to help restore ecosystems. Central to this are the preservation of biodiversity and the restoration of endangered tree species.So, it’s very important that we use native tree species in our reforestation. Foreign species can often be invasive and can have unexpected impacts on the fragile balance of local ecosystems. Native species, however, are often best suited to local climactic conditions and aid in the restoration of the soil and the rejuvenation of local flora and fauna.

When identifying which tree species to use, Taking Root gathered recommendations from both a scientific standpoint and a community perspective. We first consulted those within our project boundary to see which species were most favourable to them. We also consulted expert groups to find out which of those species would work best for the type of plantations we would be implementing. From there we identified which tree species overlapped between these two surveys, and nominated those for the project.

In making the final selection, we took special care to ensure that all the species are native to the region and well adapted to the local climactic conditions. They have varying growth, use and shape, which helps ensure the trees grow in harmony with each other over time.

The species Bombacopsis quinta (Spiny Cedar) and Swietenia humilis (Pacific Coast Mahogany), were specifically selected because they have been all but eliminated from the region. They are both on the IUCN Red list as vulnerable species. Increasing the presence of vulnerable tree species helps increase and strengthen the biodiversity of the area.

The other species used in the project are Caesalpinia velutina (Mandagual), Albizia saman (Genisaro) and Gliricidia sepium (Madero Negro). Each has particular benefits for the surrounding flora and fauna, as well as for the farmers that plant them. This includes helping restore groundwater, fertilizing the soil, and being easy to propagate.

Planting methodologies

Our Limay, Nicaragua, project implements three diverse planting methodologies, which provides farmers with different options depending on their availability of land or land usage. These planting methods are Mixed Species Forest Plantation, Silvopastoral Planting and Boundary planting.

In brief, the Mixed Species Forest Plantation consists of five native tree species, alternating in rows of fast growing nitrogen fixing species and longer-lived hardwood species.

The Silvopastoral Planting method is an intensively managed, multipurpose, mixed-species system involving planting improved pasture combined with three tree species at regular intervals throughout pasturelands.

And the Boundary planting method, often referred to as living fences or barrier planting, is the practice of planting trees along all types of boundaries and using the living trees as fence posts instead of wooden posts. Typically, these are used to delimitate property, agricultural fields, pastures, roads or any other place where fences might be located.

Adapting our methods

As time has passed, we have made adjustments to the planting methodologies and species used in the Limay project based on experience in the field. In one such case, participating farmers were seeding a tree species called Leucaena leucocephala in their nurseries, but discovered that it was being attacked by ants in the nurseries and was not fairing well. As such, we are no longer using the species in the project.

In another example, our planting methodology was originally designed to include a high percentage of Gliricidia sepium, or Madero Negro, and low percentage of Caesalpinia velutina, or Mandagual, but through local surveys we realized that Caesalpinia velutina was more valued by participating farmers because of the lower water density in its fibres (drier wood), making it more useful (i.e. for fuel wood). Thus we increased the density of Caesalpinia velutina in our planting methodology.

Preserving and restoring ecosystems

As a Plan Vivo project, Taking Root’s reforestation project in Limay is designed to build what is referred to as “natural capital.”

“Trees make the physical environment more resilient, improving watersheds and biodiversity conservation, protecting crops, preventing soil erosion and increasing productivity (with little input of labour) through nutrient recycling and shade. By introducing agroforestry systems, farmers benefit from more balanced agricultural systems. By increasing the use of systems like agroforestry and woodlots for timber and fuel wood, projects reduce pressure (e.g. from agricultural encroachment and firewood and charcoal extraction) on local forests and conservation areas, helping to protect local biodiversity and watersheds.”
(Plan Vivo, 2012)

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