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Field Course in Tropical Dry Forest Restoration in Human Dominated Landscapes


Panama has pledged to restore 1 million hectares as part of the Bonn Challenge, an ambitious global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. To meet their commitment, Panama has prioritized areas for restoration that include highly degraded agricultural lands, many of which are located within the Azuero Peninsula. The Azuero also contains the last remaining patches of tropical dry forest which is the most endangered ecosystem in the Neotropics and is threated by extensive conventional cattle ranching. The destruction of forests has degraded the provision of ecosystem services, which are necessary to support local endemic wildlife and agrarian livelihoods. With an erratic annual rainfall and a dry season lasting from five to six months, the region’s extreme climate variations compound the stresses of unsustainable land-use practices and make efforts to restore the ecosystem particularly challenging. While advances in forest restoration have been shown to recuperate ecosystem services and increase on-farm production, restoration activities require a clear understanding of both biophysical approaches and the socio-economic variables, and how they influence land use decision making. 

This field course will be facilitated at ELTI’s Azuero training landscape in the Province of Los Santos, Panama, which conveys ecological principles through its interpretative trail network and demonstration sites. Over a period of six days, students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies will learn from ELTI team members and local landholders about the ecology of tropical dry forests, how and why these ecosystems have been modified over time and the distinct historical, cultural and socio-economic factors that influence land management practices in the region. Students will also visit a network of field sites that showcase a range of forest restoration and sustainable cattle ranching strategies that landholders are adopting in the region with support from ELTI’s Training and Leadership programs. Particular attention will be given to tropical dry forest ecology, how to quantify ecosystem services in different sites and the range of restoration strategies that are utilized by different landowners. During the course students will have ample opportunity to conduct different activities, group exercises and open discussions. Students will also be able to talk with farmers about their land management challenges and to ELTI team members about their capacity development strategies and interventions.


Module 1: Tropical dry forest ecology and the provision of ecosystem services

• Introduction to tropical dry forest ecosystems of Central America
• Introduction to tropical dry forest dynamics
• Methods of monitoring ecosystem services

Module 2: Limitations for the restoration and provision of ecosystem services    

• Introduction to regional drivers of tropical forest deforestation and degradation
• Ecological and social consequences of degradation and barriers to restoration
• Methods of monitoring forest degradation

Module 3: Strategies for the restoration of ecosystem services in human-modified landscapes

• Importance of defining management goals and tailoring strategies for political and ecological contexts
• The role of community associations in forest restoration 
• Principles and methods of forest restoration
• Methods of monitoring forest restoration activities