Low-cost agricultural waste accelerates tropical forest regeneration.
Lower-cost tropical forest restoration methods, particularly those framed as win-win business-protected area partnerships, could dramatically increase the scale of tropical forest restoration activities, thereby providing a variety of societal and ecosystem benefits, including slowing both global biodiversity loss and climate change. Here we describe the long-term regenerative effects of a direct application of agricultural waste on tropical dry forest. In 1998, as part of an innovative agricultural waste disposal service contract, an estimated 12,000 Mg of processed orange peels and pulp were applied to a 3 ha portion of a former cattle pasture with compacted, rocky, nutrient-poor soils characteristic of prolonged fire-based land management and overgrazing in Área de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica. After 16 years, the experimental plot showed a threefold increase in woody plant species richness, a tripling of tree species evenness (Shannon Index), and a 176% increase in aboveground woody biomass over an adjacent control plot. Hemispheric photography showed significant increases in canopy closure in the area where orange waste was applied relative to control. Orange waste deposition significantly elevated levels of soil macronutrients and important micronutrients in samples taken 2 and 16 years after initial orange waste application. Our results point to promising opportunities for valuable synergisms between agricultural waste disposal and tropical forest restoration and carbon sequestration.