Duke Ecologist Says Logging Is Creating 'Mahogany Deserts'

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 process.

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," she writes.

Snook's article also supports the American mahogany's listing under Appendix II of

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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