A culture of conservation: how an ancient forest plantation turned into an old-growth forest reserve - the story of the Wamulin forest.
The global expansion of forest plantations at the expense of natural forests, especially old-growth forests, raises concerns about habitat loss and a decline in ecosystem services. Natural regeneration of second-growth forests with minimal human assistance has been suggested as a cost-effective way to restore forests and increase forest ecosystem service potential. However, it is unclear whether natural regeneration will lead to the development of second-growth forests similar to natural forests because most naturally regenerated second-growth forests are still young. We present a case study of a very old second-growth forest in southeastern China in which a forest plantation established approximately six centuries ago has now developed into an old forest with extraordinary high biodiversity levels, an immense carbon pool, and a rich culture. The forest was established in the 14th century because of a charitable contribution, became protected under the Chinese cultural norm of 'unity between humans and the nature', and was conserved because of the belief that the prosperity of people is closely linked to the prosperity of trees. The recent designation of the forest as a nature reserve further protects it from development despite competing land-use demands related to recent economic growth. This case illustrates that, although human activity is the main cause for the disappearance and degradation of many forests, when human interests and cultural values align second-growth restoration and subsequent forest conservation can lead to the successional development of old-growth forests. Because this development takes multiple centuries, the protection of current second-growth forests within conservation easements (e.g. nature reserves) and the reformation of culture values for the linkage of forests to human well-being are key aspects of the continued conservation-aided succession of second-growth forests.