Could Birds and Bats Help Rebuild Forests?

The researchers will begin with 12 species of trees that are normally dispersed by animals, and that produce the fruit they need to survive. Some of these are very fast-growing trees, and they don't live for many years.

"They germinate quickly, grow quickly, and die quickly, maybe 20 years at most," Howe says. "A fig tree can grow 40 feet tall in four years."

So if the plan works, within four or five years the researchers should see trees that produce fruit, and a return to the area of animals that distribute even more seeds. Hopefully, that will lead to a robust, diverse forest.

Of course, much of the land will remain in farming, so the forest won't be as grand as it once was. But parts of it, now barren and abandoned, will once again be a viable habitat for many creatures.

And all because some creative scientists teamed up with birds and bats to do what comes naturally.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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