Every year Earth loses around 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) of tropical forest. This is due to deforestation or cutting down too many trees to be replaced, which are commonly transformed into crops and pastures for cattle grazing. This causes great ecological damage. There are a variety of reasons why people cut down trees in rural communities, including to make room for agricultural crops and to use the wood to manufacture products. Ecologists, like Tarin Toledo-Aceves, are working to strike a balance between logging for human needs, because we all use timber products, and leaving enough trees standing for the plants, animals, and people who live in the forest.

Toledo-Aceves loves trees, but she also understands that people who live in and near forests depend on them economically, which has led to illegal logging. Therefore, she has made it her mission to help tropical montane cloud forests in Mexico to be maintained via sustainable logging practices. Sustainable logging implies that trees are harvested but enough trees are kept so the forest will remain and recover.

Deforestation has altered forests across the tropics, leading to an increase of young secondary forests, which is the vegetation what grows back after the original forest has been removed. Even forests under cover of clouds high up in the mountains of Mexico have not escaped logging. Much of the cloud forest in Mexico now exists only as secondary forest.

With a grant from the National Geographic Society, Toledo-Aceves is researching how to better use Mexico's secondary cloud forests. Better forest management—through selective, sustained logging—helps business owners earn the revenue they need from timber and nontimber products while enabling the forest to regrow its trees. Enough trees are kept intact to maintain biodiversity—the collection of living things living in any particular place. This means that only designated trees can be cut down at any given time. Toledo-Aceves strives to include local communities living in and near these forests in her efforts to manage the forest more sustainably. She hopes that those communities, by becoming involved in forest management, can continue to use their forests for years to come.

The journey to becoming a forest ecologist can be long yet rewarding; it requires hard work, meeting new people, travel, and visiting beautiful forests. The effort pays off when you see how your research is affecting Earth. Toledo-Aceves has spent many years, and earned a few degrees, learning what forests need and how to help them. She has a bachelor’s from the Universidad Nacional Autinoma de Mexico, a master’s at Mexico's Instituto de Ecologia A.C., and a doctoral degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, doing her research project in the tropical forests of Ghana.

In addition to her current work, Toledo-Aceves has committed to learn and share her knowledge with local populations in the areas where she works, coordinating more than 25 workshops in rural communities. On top of all that, she has planted more than 5,000 trees and counting.

Cloud forests are still being threatened by deforestation, by overharvesting, as well as by the effects of climate change, making them a global conservation priority. Because cloud forests need particular conditions of climate to exist, the increase in temperature caused by climate change affects the survival of many species that only inhabit in these forests. Toledo-Aceves and other forest ecologists are working to restore and protect the forests so these valuable resources will be around in the future.

 

 

Explorer Profile: Tarin Toledo-Aceves, Ecologist

Tarin Toledo-Aceves studies Mexico's tropical montane cloud forests. There she is working with local people on ways to restore and sustain that ecosystem.

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

Noun

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

Noun

destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.

economics
Noun

study of monetary systems, or the creation, buying, and selling of goods and services.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

forest ecology
Noun

study of the interactions between living things in a forest and their forest environment.

forestry
Noun

management, cultivation, and harvesting of trees and other vegetation in forests.

harvest
Noun

the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

logging
Noun

industry engaged in cutting down trees and moving the wood to sawmills.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

restoration
Noun

repair of damage to an ecosystem so that it can function as a normal self-regulating system.

secondary forest
Noun

forest that has grown back after being cut down or altered.

selective harvesting
Noun

forestry practice of cutting some of the trees in an area of land, while allowing others to grow. Also called selection cutting.

sustainable
Adjective

able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

timber
Noun

wood in an unfinished form, either trees or logs.

tropical montane cloud forest
Noun

forest habitat found on mountains in tropical areas that are cooler than lower areas and covered with low-lying clouds most or all of the year.

Plural Noun

region generally located between the Tropic of Cancer (23 1/2 degrees north of the Equator) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23 1/2 degrees south of the Equator).