Marina Fagundes: Improving restoration success in tropical dry forests


2023 HARPER PRIZE SHORTLIST: Throughout March, we are featuring the articles shortlisted for the 2023 Harper Prize. The Harper Prize is an annual award for the best early career research paper published in Journal of Ecology. Marina Fagundes’s article ‘The role of plant diversity and facilitation during tropical dry forest restoration‘ is one of those shortlisted for the award:

👋 About me

I’m a Latin American scientist, born in the south of Brazil. As soon as I finished my undergraduate degree in biology, I moved to the north-east of Brazil to do my master’s and doctorate, studying the fascinating semi-arid forest system, the Caatinga. The Caatinga is a Brazilian semi-arid system of 800,000 km², with a high level of biodiversity. However, this same system is under great anthropogenic pressure, with 15 per cent of its territory already in a state of desertification. As a result, we have a constant loss of biodiversity and an increase in human suffering. For this reason, my studies focus on finding solutions to restore this environment that shelters a great biological endemism.

🔎 The shortlisted paper

In the shortlisted study, I tested how species diversity and positive interactions modulate biomass production and the functioning of restored tree communities, by building a field experiment with 147 plots of Caatinga forest communities. We manipulated the species diversity level, composition, and the level of facilitative potential of each community. We show that positive interactions are important for increasing the biomass of restored communities. Furthermore, surprisingly, facilitation manages to attenuate the dominance effect of neighbouring species, causing species that tend to grow more to decrease their performance, and species that generally perform poorly to increase their biomass production. In this way, facilitation not only improves the performance of the communities, but also allows the diversity of the species used to be maintained.

Aerial view of the experimental plots. Each plot is 8 m x 13 m and has 32 trees. In the centre you can see a 20,000 litre water tank, a bus and a support vehicle.

What’s next?

At the present time, I am a post-doc at the Restoration Ecology Lab and a volunteer lecturer at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. I believe it’s of the utmost importance for scientific knowledge to be linked to the “popular” world, and that through the dissemination of scientific information it’s possible to build pillars to improve people’s quality of life and the environment in which we live. I will continue to work so that the world knows a Caatinga that is great in species biodiversity and human culture.

Find Marina on ResearchGate.

Read the full list of articles shortlisted for the 2023 Harper Prize here.

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