Duke Ecologist Says Logging Is Creating 'Mahogany Deserts'

DURHAM, N.C. -- In findings with implications for the future of a commercially-important tropical wood, Duke University ecologist Laura Snook has discovered that seedlings of American mahogany trees seem to become successfully established only on open land.

Snook's research in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula suggests that replacing the many stately mahoganies felled by loggers in tropical forests will not be a simple matter.

While mature mahogany trees normally grow in thick woods, she has found no evidence that new mahogany seedlings will successfully grow in the shade of other trees -- mahogany trees included.

Snook is deeply concerned about the "mahogany deserts" she said are being created by South and Central American logging practices. Remaining mahogany reserves are currently being "mined," not "managed," she said in an interview.

" 'Mining' means you take it all out until it is gone, and then you walk away," she said. " 'Management' says we want to harvest mahogany today and tomorrow and the next day. At the moment, mahogany is not being treated like a renewable resource for the most part. In 99 percent of cases, it's being mined."

Snook, an assistant professor of the practice of conservation biology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, details her findings in an article published in this month's Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. She will also discuss her research at the International Conference on Big Leaved Mahogany: Ecology, Genetic Resources and Management, to be held Oct 22-24 in San Juan, P.R.

To successfully regenerate mahogany trees in natural settings, Snooks's studies have shown that that mahogany seeds must land upon temporary clearings created by high winds and subsequent fires. They must then compete for survival with other plant species also taking root there.

"They apparently co-evolved with disturbance, which is very common in forests," Snook said in an inter

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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