Lacandon Maya forest management: restoration of soil fertility using native tree species.
In southern Mexico, where rain forests are being degraded rapidly, the Lacandon Maya use an agroforestry system that both restores and conserves the rain forest. Their system cycles through field and fallow stages that produce food, medicines, and raw materials, and regenerates tall secondary forest. This investigation identified plants managed by Lacandon to restore soil fertility during fallow. Through interviews, Lacandon identified 20 plants managed for forest restoration. Leaf litter measurements and soil samples were taken near two of these species, Ochroma pyramidale and Sapium lateriflorum. Leaf litter increased quicker beneath O. pyramidales compared to other tree species (R=0.48, P=0.004), and total nematode concentrations increased with distance from this tree (R=0.71, P<0.001). Together, these two findings indicated an inhibition of degradation that permits accelerated soil organic matter accumulation. Available phosphorus (P) concentrations beneath S. lateriflorum were 16% higher than outside the canopy (P=0.03), and increased with age of the tree, indicating P recovery from subsoil. Our research shows that the Lacandon are cognizant of the natural abilities of certain species to fulfill the restoration needs in their systems. It demonstrates that Maya agroforestry and local knowledge could contribute to efforts to conserve and restore rainforests, and reduce deforestation by accelerating fallow in tropical agriculture.