Interdisciplinary research towards management of non-timber forest resources in lowland rain forests of Sri Lanka
Lowland and mid-elevational rainforests of Sri Lanka harbor a relict, endemic-rich flora which is also rich in timber and non-timber forest resources. These forests supply nearly half the total wood requirements of the country and are dwindling rapidly; management of the forests to conserve the biological richness and maintain environmental services is therefore a difficult proposition. This predicament is further compounded by the dependency of rural people on a range of non-timber forest resources for their subsistence and income. A forestry master plan recently prepared for Sri Lanka has not given adequate recognition to the important role played by non-timber forest resources in rural livelihood. This oversight is primarily due to the lack of quantitative information to justify the role of non-timber forest resources in forestry sector development. Forestry policies that ignore these resources often anger local people, leading the villagers to vent their disapproval through destructive actions such as burning timber plantations. Long-term interdisciplinary research in ecology, reproductive and soil biology, ethnobiology, silviculture, rural sociology and resource economics in progress at Sinharaja attempts to address these questions of sustainable development of forest resources in an integrated mode. While research oriented toward conservation investigates both short- and long-term ecosystem dynamics in natural and modified forest stands, utilization-oriented research probes the impact of increased human disturbance, particularly the impact of rural communities on dwindling forest resources, as well as the effect of forest conservation on rural livelihood. These studies continue to seek alternative methods of forest management which are socially acceptable, economically viable, and ecologically sustainable for multiple uses. These methods will assist in the refinement of current forest policies, forestry planning, and the implementation of new policies and plans in Sri Lanka.