Jefferson Hall, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and colleagues from Princeton University, Wageningen University, the University of Copenhagen, and Yale University are the first to report that tropical trees take the responsibility to recover themselves and the land around them from the effects of deforestation, agriculture, and other human activities in the Sept. 15, 2013, issue of the journal Nature.
Working at the Agua Salud Project in the Panama Canal Watershed, the scientists have been investigating the response of tropical rain forests to logging and clearing for agriculture.
The researchers found that tropical trees change the rate at which the trees fix nitrogen from the air and deliver that nitrogen to the soil. The trees have increased the nitrogen fixation rate in response to deforestation from logging and agricultural clearing. The increased rate of nitrogen return to the ground decreases the amount of carbon lost as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
The trees have been found to be preventing global warming through a naturally occurring process. The nitrogen fixation is a natural fertilization process that increases ground plant growth as well as tree health and growth.
The results were verified from agricultural and deforested land at two, 12, 20, 30, and 80 years after the original deforestation occurred.