The emerging era of novel tropical forests
In 1966 Eugene P. Odum delivered a speech before the Ecological Society of America that transformed the way ecologists looked at succession. His comparison of mature and successional systems lead ecologists to place secondary forests in an inferior position relative to mature ones to the point that today, prominent tropical biologists argue for and against the conservation value of secondary forests. Nevertheless, we live in the era of secondary forests that is rapidly giving way to a new era of novel tropical forests. Research in Puerto Rico documents the emergence of novel forests, which are different in terms of species composition, dominance, and relative importance of species from forests that were present before the island was deforested. These novel forests emerged without assistance. They are a natural response to the new environmental conditions created by human activity. Natural processes have remixed or reassembled native and introduced plant and animal species into novel communities adapted to anthropogenic environmental conditions. Novel forests are expected to protect soils, cycle nutrients, support wildlife, store carbon, maintain watershed functions, and mitigate species extinctions. The dawn of the age of tropical novel forests is upon us and must not be ignored.