Resource Details

Planting Seedlings in Tree Islands Versus Plantations as a Large-Scale Tropical Forest Restoration Strategy

Literature: Journal Articles

Holl, K.D., Zehawi, R.A., Cole, R.J., Ostertag, R. & Cordell, S. 2011, "Planting Seedlings in Tree Islands Versus Plantations as a Large-Scale Tropical Forest Restoration Strategy", Restoration Ecology, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 470-479.

Contact Info

Corresponding Author:


  • Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, United States
  • Organization for Tropical Studies, Apdo. 73-8257, San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica
  • University of Hawai'i at Hilo, Hilo, HI 96720, United States
  • Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Hilo, HI 96720, United States


Restoration Ecology

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Species Info

  • Inga edulis
  • Erythrina poeppigiana
  • Terminalia amazonia
  • Vochysia guatemalensis


  • This research compares the growth and mortality of 4 tree species (2 native to Costa Rica and 2 native to northwestern South America) in the reforestation of abandoned agricultural land in Costa Rica using two different approaches: plantation (entire 50 x 50m planted) and tree island (six patches of three sizes–small, medium and large– planted within a 50 x 50m area). 
  • The experiment was replicated in 12 different sites across a 100 km2 area.
  • Over a period of 3 years, data was collected on seedling growth and survival, canopy cover, soil and foliar nutrients, soil compaction, and photosynthesis.
  • Overall, seedling survival was similar across treatments; however, seedling growth and canopy area was higher in plantations, with an overall height difference of 0.6 m recorded over 3 years.
  • The authors link the decreased growth recorded in the tree islands to two possible factors: (1) a higher incidence of damage along the edge from ruderal vegetation clearing, and (2) a higher proportion of saplings exposed to the more stressful abiotic conditions along the edge.
  • Survival, growth and canopy area were all site- and species-specific and greater rates were recorded for the two N-fixing species, Inga edulis and Erythrina poeppigiana
  • Measurements of soil and foliar nutrients did not vary significantly between the plantation and island designs; however, individual species growth and canopy cover did vary with soil and foliar nutrients.
  • For the two non-N-fixing species (Terminalia Amazonia and Vochysia guatemalensis), foliar N was strongly correlated to canopy cover of Inga edulis.
  • With regard to the measurements of photosynthesis, the leaf mass per unit area was higher in the islands, while efficient use of phosphorus was higher in plantations.
  • The authors exert that, while reforestation with tree islands is significantly cheaper and may have seedling survival rates comparable to plantations, the possible disadvantages must be carefully measured and site-specific methods should be used. 

Geographical Region

  • Southern Central America
  • Country

  • Costa Rica
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