In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with an off-the-wall idea.
In exchange for donating portion of unspoiled, forested land to the Area de Consevacion Guanacaste- a nature preserve in the country’s Northwest, the park would allow the company to dump its discarded orange peels and pulp, free of change, in a heavily grazed, largely deforested area nearby.
The site was left untouched and largely unexamined for over a decade.
Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the waste deposit was “like night and day”, the area was so thick with vegetation.
The results published in the journal “Restoration Ecology” highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area’s turnaround.
Researchers believe better management of discarded produce, like orange peels, could be the key to helping forests regrow.
In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, sapping local soils of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the ability of ecosystems to restore themselves.
In much of the world is awash in nutrient-rich food waste. In the US, up to half of all produce is discarded most currently ends up in landfills.
The next step is to examine whether other ecosystems, dry forest, cloud forests, tropical savannas, react the same way to similar deposits.
The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.
In addition to greater biodiversity, richer soil and a better developed canopy, researchers found that such forests absorb and store atmospheric carbon at roughly eleven times the rate of old-growth forests.
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