Sociologist Leah VanWey, ecologist Stephen Porder, and their respective teams are collaborating to serve both natural and human interests in Brazil's Atlantic rainforest.
The clearing of tropical rainforests is often front-page news. Oil palm plantations are replacing hyper-diverse Indonesian forests, and the fragmentation of the Amazon follows each new road into the world’s last continental-scale rainforest. But on the Atlantic coast of Brazil a different type of challenge is emerging – how to restore a tropical rainforest biome that once stretched from northern Brazil to Argentina, hugging 1,500 km of coast and housing biodiversity equal to any place on Earth? The region’s biodiversity is on the verge of extinction after 500 years of intensive human land use that has not provided sustainable socioeconomic development. Our team of natural and social scientists from Brazil and the United States is working with local NGOs to explore how and why people use their lands as they do, what lands are most suitable (both socially and ecologically) for restoration, and what incentives are likely to work to enhance both human well-being and forest regeneration. Armed with this knowledge, IBES researchers hope to to restore these rich ecosystems while simultaneously achieving increases in human well-being. If successful, the Sul da Bahia can serve as a harbinger for an alternative future for tropical forests – where forest regrowth goes hand in hand with increased human well-being.