There is a considerable body of ecological information relevant to the management of tropical forests, but in practice, little of this is used. It is demonstrated how ecology helps to understand forests and forest change and argued that there is an urgent need for a wider appreciation and utilisation of current knowledge. Forest managers must take a holistic, long-term landscape-level view, and how change in itself is inevitable. Familiar concerns relating to silviculture and canopy disturbance are considered and then, the neglected biology of tree pollination and seed dispersal and the risks associated with animal loss. Increasing threats from fire, exotic species and habitat fragmentation are identified. Finally, the difficult balance between timber production and conservation related values is discussed. The ecological overview, with its mixture of common sense and more subtle insights, may be translated into beneficial actions. Considerable progress is attainable, but requires collaboration between ecologists and forest managers. Initiatives that seek to reform forest practices in the tropics require a sound ecological basis to better address the many challenges facing modern forestry in these regions - such a basis is, in large part, already available for wider use. Illustrations are given as to how management may be improved. Fundamental to these is the recognition that ecological knowledge is crucial to forestry but currently too often ignored, and that considerable and rapid progress is possible if ecologists, foresters and others can find ways to work together and address this directly.