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What is a forest?
The United Nations has proclaimed 2011 to be the International Year of Forests. This is not for nothing, because the lungs of the earth are entitled to our undivided attention. Without forests, life on earth would be impossible. In this series of articles we will therefore take a look at forests.
The word forest arouses different feelings in people. For many it signifies a large pristine area hosting a collection of trees, others already consider a small area of green to be a forest. The definition of a forest is simply an area with trees. Whether it’s coniferous or deciduous trees, large or small, thick or thin.
Curaçao also has forests, though they are somewhat different than the forests that we have in mind when we think of the large areas of forests in Germany or America. The forests of Curacao are characterized by low vegetation, really big trees are rare, and most are bushy in appearance. Make no mistake, however, although you’ll mostly encounter spiny trees, this type of forest is highly valuable. The typical Curacaoan ‘mondi’, filled with brasia’s and indju’s, watapana and kadushi is the actual forest of the island. The majority of terrestrial biodiversity on the island is part of this system.
The Palu di sia korá (Bursera simaruba) – a special tree of the Curacaoan forest
Palu di sia korá (Bursera simaruba) is a tree that occurs widespread from Florida, throughout the Caribbean to Central and South America. In the past, this tree has been utilized on Curacao to create so called tranké’s, living fences around a field. In the Band’abou region you still can find several of these tranké’s. The tree is characterized by its red-brown scaly bark.
Primary and secondary forests
What people often do not realize is that also a typical Curacaoan forest has gradations. In biology, the terms secondary and primary forest are used to identify the development and the associated biological variation within the vegetation of a certain area. Primary forests are native forests with a large biological variation (biodiversity), a large number of different species of plants, animals and other organisms. Secondary forests are forests that (recently) have grown back after the original forest has been lost by destruction. This destruction may be due to forest fires, earthquakes or other natural disasters, but also because of the clearing of the original vegetation by humans. Secondary forests have a very low biodiversity, the numbers of plants, animals and other organisms are significantly lower than in a primary forest. Some organisms will never return.
Natural recovery of a devastated forest
Often the mental mistake is made that a piece of land that has been cleared of vegetation and has lain fallow for a while, returns to being an original ‘mondi’ after some rain. Indeed the area might look like a sea of green, but the forest is still gone. The secondary vegetation is considerably less diverse than what was originally there, and where a rich forest once stood, there is now only species-poor vegetation, which on Curacao is usually characterized by initially large quantities of katuna di Seda and wabi. The chances that a primary forest, with its high species diversity, will return to its original glory is quite small. It might, though, if given the opportunity, but it will take dozens if not hundreds of years.
Facts on Forests
Did you know that:
– 31% of the total land area in the world is covered with forests?
– 300 million people in the world live in forests?
– per minute an area equivalent to six football fields of rain forest is cleared in the Amazon region?
– 80% of terrestrial biodiversity occurs in forests?
– only 36% of the existing forest consists of primary forest?