Reforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is no easy task. Logging, slash and burn agriculture, and wildfires have left areas decimated, but lowland tapirs, a trunk-nosed piglike native species, could hold the key to bringing these areas back to life in their excrement.
Tapirs eat more than 300 types of plants, including large, carbon-storing trees like mess apple trees. Subsequently, they end up consuming seeds of all different varieties and dispersing them throughout the forest through their dung. Even more promising, the tapirs appear to drop more dung in deforested areas than healthy ones.
To discover this, researchers from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brazil sectioned off areas of the rainforest into plots with varying degrees of burn damage. They then carefully monitored the behavior of tapirs and analyzed excrement samples. They found that tapirs deposited more than three times more seeds in damaged areas than in the untouched forest.
Now, the researchers are looking into whether they can use nature’s re-foresters for larger-scale solutions to rainforest health. Ranchers are by law required to maintain 80 percent of natural forest cover on their land in the Amazon, so tapirs could be a viable solution to maintaining this ratio. Additionally, collected tapir dung could be utilized to fast track reforestation in heavily damaged areas.
Unfortunately, tapir populations are decreasing due to habitat destruction and hunting, but if we can protect and promote this species, we could have a tangible and natural solution to one of the biggest threats facing the world’s largest rainforest.