Our species plays a unique role in the past, present, and future of life on Earth. As primates, we need to eat, drink, sleep, be protected from predators and the elements, socialize, and procreate. As humans, we have the potential to overcome cultural, geographic, social, technical, and political barriers to solve problems that threaten our planet and the diverse forms and styles of life it sustains. Half of the Earth’s surface area is now devoted to grazing land or cultivated crops; in this conversion, over half of the world’s forests have disappeared (Kareiva et al., 2007). Much of this cleared land has lost or severely reduced its potential for agricultural production due to soil erosion or degradation (Fig. 1). Although many forests demonstrate the capacity to recover spontaneously from catastrophic disturbances, cumulative changes in forests and other ecosystems, coupled with growing human populations, increasing per-capita rates of consumption, disease outbreaks, biodiversity loss, extreme climate changes, and sea-level rise now undermine our planetary life-support system (Steffen et al., 2015).
Forest and landscape restoration: Toward a shared vision and vocabulary
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