Source: dinesh_valke on FlickrConservation Letters has an article about a situation in Borneo that illustrates how sudden, unpredictable events in ecology are not always bad.  In the past year, the island’s forests have undergone an ecosystem-wide event known as “general flowering,” where trees of many species produce seeds and fruit in massive amounts.  These events occur rarely (the last was 12 years ago), and in the years in between few seeds are produced and few new trees take root.

Borneo is a biodiversity hotspot and its forests and peatlands store massive amounts of carbon, but its forests have been degraded and cleared through logging conversion of land to palm oil plantations.   Thus, restoration of its forests is important.  However, restoration requires a large supply of tree seeds, which are only produced during these “general flowering” events and have a short shelf life.  This poses an interesting challenge.  The authors write:

Given the unpredictable yet synchronous fruiting of many of these species, we are faced with the challenge of collecting such large numbers of seeds within a short window of opportunity (a matter of weeks), but with only a very general idea of when this might occur.

Unfortunately, while there are a number of organizations working on forest restoration in Borneo, they have not had the infrastructure or organizational capacity to use this bounty.  There have not been enough resources to collect the seeds, sufficient nursery capacity to grow them, or scientific knowledge for successful planting.   The authors lay out the financial and organizational resourced needed in order to avoid missing the opportunity next time around.

I find this really interesting, because mostly I’ve thought about sudden, hard-to-predict ecological events that are “bad.”  For instance, pest outbreaks, coral bleachings, or fishery collapses are all things we try to reduce the risk of and then manage so as to reduce the damage when they occur.  Resilience theory has provided much of the framework for managing these shocks.  

Yet how should we think about events like this mass flowering that present opportunities to restore or improve ecosystems?  I suppose that managing requires models to predict them, monitoring to detect them early, and capacity to respond as they occur.   Does anyone have other examples of similar rare and unpredictable “good” ecological events? Kettle, C., Ghazoul, J., Ashton, P., Cannon, C., Chong, L., Diway, B., Faridah, E., Harrison, R., Hector, A., Hollingsworth, P., Koh, L., Khoo, E., Kitayama, K., Kartawinata, K., Marshall, A., Maycock, C., Nanami, S., Paoli, G., Potts, M., Samsoedin, I., Sheil, D., Tan, S., Tomoaki, I., Webb, C., Yamakura, T., & Burslem, D. (2010). Seeing the fruit for the trees in Borneo Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00161.x