o grow new mahoganies
in the clearings opened up by wind and fire.
The regeneration process may be even more complicated. In a recent revisit
to Quintana Roo, Snook found that mahogany seeds can actually successfully
germinate and begin growing in the shade. It's only after they run out of
their own stored food -- perhaps a year after germination begins -- that
the tiny shoots need open sunlight to make food through the photosynthetic
At a study site in Belize as well as in Mexico, Snook is dropping mahogany
seeds onto cornfields to see if the species can also be regenerated and
managed in conjunction with shifting agriculture.
"I'm sure that's what happened in the past," she said. "Not
only did mahoganies have the benefit of hurricanes and fires. They also
had the benefit of Mayans who created little openings in the forest and
then abandoned them after they finished a year or two of corn production."
Using a rough calculation, Snook predicted that a 500-year old mahogany
tree may produce half a million seeds over its long life. "Most seeds
die," she said. "Very few come to anything. But only one seed
can replace its parent."
Another consideration is that mahogany seeds are only viable for a matter
of months before they biodegrade and die, she noted. That means they cannot
be stored and preserved indefinitely in the ground the ways seeds of many
other plants can.
In her article in Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Snook warns
that the way mahoganies reproduce makes them "vulnerable to logging,
first because juvenile mahoganies are not found in the understory, and secondly
because logging operations shortcircuit mahogany regeneration processes.
Logging interferes "by selectively removing almost all mahogany seed
sources while leaving standing competing vegetation of other species,"
Snook's article also supports the American mahogany's listing under Appendix
Contact: Monte Basgall
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