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Prof Susan Letcher’s Innovative Work Featured in Nature

Letcher’s work reveals optimism for the environment.

This week’s issue of Nature features an important article by Lourens Poorter and an international team of researchers including Susan Letcher, assistant professor of environmental studies, based on their fascinating work in Latin America studying forest ecology in hopes of reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon uptake.

Secondary Forests Could Be the Answer
While many scientists focus on old-growth tropical forests, the important findings show that secondary forests that regrow after nearly complete removal can sequester large amounts of carbon in a short amount of time, therefore providing an affordable and nature-based solution to one of the greatest problems plaguing the earth.

Working with an international team of forest ecologists led by researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Professor Letcher and her fellow scientists analyzed 1,500 forest plots and 45 sites across Latin America to demonstrate that tropical forests grow back rapidly after disturbance, storing large amounts of carbon, and may be able to counterbalance climate change to a greater degree than previously thought.

Trees Grow Fast in Costa Rica
An environmental scientist and terrestrial ecologist, Professor Letcher studies forest recovery in Costa Rica, where she has conducted fieldwork since 2003. “It’s remarkable how fast tropical forests can recover, given the opportunity,” she remarks.

“Where I grew up in Maine, a 15-year-old forest is basically a thicket of trees as big around as my arm. In some of these tropical forests after 15 years, there are trees too big for me to hug.”

She emphasizes the hopeful nature of these results: “The natural world is incredibly resilient. If we can harness the power of that resilience, we can mitigate some of the harm that human activity imposes on the world and its climate system.”

Letcher wrote a piece on her findings posted to The Conversation.

The Nature article, “Biomass Resilience of Neotropical secondary Forests,” can be viewed here.