"RUNNER bean trees" could be the key to putting greenery back in damaged forests, research suggests.

Scots scientists believe trees related to the garden vegetables may help repair depleted woods in tropical regions.

According to the Stirling University team, the findings – based on evidence from 40 sites across Central and South America – could be the key to hitting reforestation goals under the worldwide Bonn Challenge.

It aims to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, upping this to 350m hectares a decade later.

The findings – published in the specialist Nature Ecology & Evolution journal and backed by funding from the Carnegie Trust for Scottish Universities – centre around trees in the Leguminosae family, which includes runner beans and peas.

It also covers canopy plants that play a key role in tropical forests.

Until now, expert analysis of the abundance of the species has been skewed towards wet tropical regions. The new study, which drew from forest census data, focused on their drier counterparts and highlights their "critical" importance for forest regrowth due to their resistance to drought and ability to thrive in poor soils.

During the first three decades of natural regeneration in areas recovering from logging, legume trees were found to be twice as common in arid areas, when compared with wet zones.

Tropical ecology specialist Dr Daisy Dent, who contributed to the study led by overall study led by the Minnesota University, said: "Our study shows that trees in the Leguminosae family are critical to tropical forest regrowth in dry regions.

“As global temperatures warm and dry conditions become more widespread in the tropics, this has major implications for forest recovery across the region.”

On its practical impact, she went on: "In light of the goals of the Bonn Challenge, our study will directly influence how we match tree species to site conditions to maximise the effective restoration of degraded tropical lands.”