November 3, 2015

CTFS - ForestGEO Africa Database Workshop and Symposium in Washington, D.C.

CTFS – ForestGEO hosted its Africa database training workshop last week in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The 10-day workshop was generously supported by Chris Davidson. David Kenfack, CTFS – ForestGEO Africa Program Coordinator, and Suzanne Lao, CTFS - ForestGEO Database Manager, ran the workshop for five of our African forest dynamics plots partners. For most participants, this was their first time traveling to the United States, which provided an opportunity for the research team to meet and work together in person.

From left to right: Paul Musili (Mpala, Kenya), Pulcherie Bissiengou (Rabi, Gabon), Alexander Mengnjo (Korup, Cameroon), David Kenfack (Korup, Cameroon; Mpala, Kenya; Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria) Amani Ngoma (Ituri, Rep. of Congo), Hazel Chapman (Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria), and Suzanne Lao. 
At the workshop, participants dove into learning data entry techniques through the CTFS database system.  The goal of the training workshop was to form capacity within each of the respective forest dynamics plot for managing and utilizing forest plot data. The participants learned numerous concepts from utilizing Structured Query Language (SQL) commands with sample data to creating and digitizing maps in R. The participants represented the forest plots in Gabon, Kenya, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.  

From left to right: Pulcherie Bissiengou, Amani Ngoma, Paul Musili, and Suzanne Lao hard at work.
On October 21st, CTFS – ForestGEO held a symposium at the museum, “Plant Systematics and the ForestGEO Network in Africa,” geared towards highlighting the workshop participants and their research. David Kenfack introduced the African forest dynamics plots and some of the plant systematics challenges we face in central Africa. Research talks followed by Pulcherie Bissiengou, Rabi forest plot in Gabon and the National Herbarium of Gabon, and Paul Musili, Mpala forest plot in Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya. Pulcherie discussed her recent dissertation work on the systematics, evolution, and historical biogeography of Ochnaceae. Paul Musili discussed systematic studies in Schoenus L. (Schoeneae, Cyperaceae) sedges in Kenya. The symposium concluded with David discussing the importance of long-distance dispersal for the biogeography of the transatlantic tree genus (Meliaceae, Sapindales). 

Paul Musili, Systematic studies in sedges Schoenus L. (Schoeneae, Cyperaceae).
The workshop concluded with an opportunity for the participants to work on their forest plot data in the CTFS database and a chance to explore the city of Washington, D.C. before departing. A big thanks to everyone who participated, and CTFS - ForestGEO looks forward to the continual support of ongoing projects and progress in the African plots!

October 6, 2015

CTFS - ForestGEO session at 100th-annual ESA meeting in Baltimore, MD

CTFS – ForestGEO recently hosted a session on Dimensions of Forest Diversity at the 100th annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Baltimore, MD. Scientists presented some of the latest research coming out of the annual Dimensions of Biodiversity workshop between CTFS – ForestGEO and the Chinese Forest Biodiversity Monitoring Network. Thank you to all of the speakers and guests that attended!

The session began with an introduction by Stuart Davies, the Director of CTFS-ForestGEO, followed by ten presentations by CTFS - ForestGEO researchers. The session focused on the functional, phylogenetic, and genetic dimensions of forest diversity and change. Specifically, the presenters discussed how forests face multiple pressures from shifts in temperature and precipitation to deforestation and degradation associated with global climate change. For example, Andy Jones, Assistant Professor at Oregon State University, discussed species’ genetic responses to seasonal droughts in tropical forests and how results can inform future changes we face with upcoming El Niño events.

Stuart J. Davies, the Director of CTFS – ForestGEO, introducing the session. Photo by Maofang Luo.
Lei Chen, The cumulative effect of phylogenetic relatedness on the assembly of forest tree neighborhoods. Photo by Maofang Luo.
Yanjun Du, Intraspecific and phylogenetic density-dependent recruitment in a subtropical evergreen forest. Photo by Maofang Luo.
A poster session followed suit in the exhibit hall that included a poster by Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, leader of the Ecosystems and Climate Initiative, about global change effects on forests worldwide. If you attended ESA, we hope you had a chance to stop by our ForestGEO and MarineGEO exhibitor table! 

Kristin Powell (ForestGEO; left) and Maria Murray (MarineGEO; right) at the Smithsonian Global Earth Observatories exhibitor table.

The day ended with a final rendezvous at a local restaurant in Baltimore that celebrated the success of the session with CTFS – ForestGEO researchers and affiliates. Another big thank you to everyone who participated and attended. CTFS - ForestGEO looks forward to future sessions at ESA!

August 25, 2015

New field book features CTFS - ForestGEO plot in Yasuni, Ecuador

CTFS – ForestGEO, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador (PUCE), and Dinamica del bosque de Yasuni present a new book, Árboles emblemáticos de Yasuní: 337 especies (Yasuni emblematic trees: 337 species), written by Alvaro J. Perez, Consuelo Hernandez, Hugo Romero-Saltos, and Renato Valencia, published by Herbario QCA.

The book is a field guide that displays morphological descriptions, uses, distribution, phenology, demographics, and accumulated carbon for 337 of the species in Yasuni National Park (314 species of trees, 22 species of palms, and one tree fern). 

In 1995, CTFS – ForestGEO helped establish the Yasuni Forest Dynamics Plot in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador in association with PUCE and the University of Aarhus in Denmark. This region is one of the greatest biodiversity hotspots on the planet with nearly 300,000 individual trees and 1100 species tagged in the plot. 
From left to right: Milton Pabón, Gabriel Grefa, Renato Valencia, and Álvaro Pérez conducting field research in the Yasuni Forest Dynamics Plot
Principal Investigator of the Yasuni plot, Renato Valencia, led a data-collection team for two decades to develop and research the ecology of 337 of the species at Yasuni. The book includes color photographs of leaves, flowers, fruits, and trees to encourage the development of future research and conservation strategies in one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. See below for examples of the photography taken in Yasuni. 
Mayna odorata, an understory tree that is used for crossbars in residential structure in the area as well as oil in the fruit (pp.28 from Árboles emblemáticos de Yasuní: 337 especies)

Solanum grandiflorum; Photo taken by Renato Valencia

July 29, 2015

Annual workshop at the pioneer forest plot: CTFS - ForestGEO partners in Panama

CTFS - ForestGEO wrapped up its fifth, annual Dimensions of Biodiversity data-analysis workshop in Gamboa, Panama—home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Thanks to all 57 participants from 20 countries around the network,  CTFS - ForestGEO had another productive year in forest research!

Workshop participants in Gamboa, Panama
Workshop priorities followed suit from previous years: to bring a global network to a local place to foster research and scientific collaborations among the CTFS – ForestGEO members. Every workshop is an opportunity to explore the latest research ideas with colleagues and meet new network researchers in person.

The workshop is an ongoing collaboration between CTFS – ForestGEO and the Chinese Forest Biodiversity Monitoring Network with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The National Science Foundation has provided financial support for the workshops since the summer of 2011.

At the workshop, participants hunkered down on forest plot analyses focused on biomass and carbon storage, gradients of diversity, time-series analyses of forest dynamics, and much more. Breaks from data analyses and computer screens ensued throughout the day as participants heard scientific presentations and provided feedback on forest research happening around the global network.  With 57 forest scientists in one room, there was no lack of expertise! Local Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientists also joined the discussions and presented talks on the history of Panama and the immense amount of research occurring in tropical, Panamanian ecosystems. 

Gathering on Day 1!

Tony Coates revealing the history of Panama (photo courtesy C. Chang-Yang)
Early inspiration for questions about forest dynamics came from a field trip to the CTFS – ForestGEO pioneer plot, Barro Colorado Island (BCI). An 8 AM boat ride through the Panama Canal brought the participants to BCI, where they all climbed to the first of the now 63 forest dynamics plots in the CTFS – ForestGEO network.  Everyone had a chance to get a glimpse  of the 302 tree species in the plot. Back at the workshop hotel site,  the BCI plant taxonomy guru and leader of the eighth BCI forest census, Rolando Pérez, walked everyone through the history and species of the local area on a guided natural-history tour of Panama’s diverse plant and animal life. Gamboa, Panama certainly provided an appropriate backdrop for a forest-studies workshop.

Peter Umunay (works with Ituri, Dem. Rep. of Congo forest plot) at BCI

Learning about the BCI plot species (photo courtesy S. Mattson)
The workshop ended with a full day of scientific presentations. All participants shared their hot-off-the-press research findings that they discovered within the two-week workshop and received feedback and ideas about how to keep their research projects moving forward.

A final rendezvous at the butterfly garden celebrated the success of the fifth Dimensions of Biodiversity workshop. A big thanks to everyone who participated, and CTFS - ForestGEO looks forward to hearing about your ongoing research projects!

Goodbye's at the Rainforest Resort's Butterfly House in Gamboa, Panama (photo courtesy C. Chang-Yang)
See a slideshow of more workshop photos below:

Created with flickr slideshow.

January 7, 2015

Preparations for the TY Danjuma supported Nigerian plot are continuing as scheduled

Forest biodiversity and conservation research in Nigeria has received a major boost with the donation by T.Y. Danjuma to the Nigerian Montane Forest Project (NMFP) for the establishment of a long-term, large-scale forest research plot at Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State. The Ngel Nyaki plot will be the first CTFS-ForestGEO plot in Nigeria and only the fifth in the entire African continent.

The University of Canterbury NMFP, directed by Associate Professor Hazel Chapman, operates a teaching and research facility located on the edge of Ngel Nyaki forest, a hotspot of natural diversity. The NMFP works with Taraba State Forestry to protect the forest.

The field station, which has been operating for eight years, serves as a research laboratory and teaching center, with accommodation for scientists and students. Masters and PhD level students from Nigerian universities and institutions, as well as University of Canterbury students, undertake research within the reserve.
Associate Professor Chapman says the research is assisting conservation in Nigeria in critical ways.“The focus of the research carried out by the NMFP is aimed towards the conservation, restoration and management of these unique forests and understanding the services provided by the plants and animals in them. It is vitally important research, because Nigeria has already lost most of its primary forests and therefore the potential to benefit from them.”

Current research projects include understanding pollination networks, seed dispersal by primates and rats, and investigations into the medicinal properties of forest trees.

Field assistants have been trained from nearby Yelwa village to support the research effort by setting up and monitoring experiments. They receive training in using computers, data entry, photography, and telemetry techniques, providing transferable skills making them sought after employees on the Plateau.

Assoc. Prof. Chapman says, “In funding our research plot T.Y. Danjuma has given Taraba State and the NMFP a huge boost; it is a truly exciting development. The plot will attract more Nigerian and international researchers and students, it will provide work for more of the local community, and it will strengthen conservation initiatives. Data from the plot will contribute towards understanding the effects of climate change, carbon sequestration and forest fragmentation.”

To learn more about CTFS-ForestGEO visit our website. 

December 16, 2014

2014: CTFS-ForestGEO in Review

2014 has been a year of growth and continued success for CTFS – ForestGEO. 2014 has seen the acquisition of six new global forest plots, collaborations through many different workshops, and funding of research projects through the research grants program. Highlights from 2014 include: 


CTFS-ForestGEO hosted an international Biodiversity Workshop in Xishuangbanna, China, funded by the National Science Foundation, USA, and the National Natural Science Foundation, China. The workshop was held at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The goal of the workshop was to understand how tree and animal biodiversity—species, trait, genetic, and evolutionary diversity -- contribute to healthy forest ecosystems. 

Created with flickr slideshow

The workshop provided in-depth training to 55 students, early-career professors, and research associates from 15 countries. Participants collaborated on new research projects with peers and advanced scientists across multiple forest plots. This year, 50% of the participants were attending the workshop for the first time. 

The workshop has led to several extended benefits. For example, Chinese research groups have duplicated the workshop in local training activities. The workshop’s international recognition helped CTFS – ForestGEO gain funding for additional Chinese forest plots. 

Find the original blog announcement here

CTFS – ForestGEO hosted a database-training workshop in Singapore. The workshop provided basic and advanced support for plot managers in Asia. Techniques learned at the workshop allow plot managers to independently and confidently manage their local, high-quality forest data. Among the forest plot countries represented at this workshop were Brunei Darussalam, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. 

The workshop also facilitated the development of several new database initiatives. Our database team has been developing new systems for generic data entry, data uploading, and data validation, which include tools such as double data entry and screening as well as geographic data mapping. 

Find original blog announcement here.      

María Natalia Umaña, photo courtesy of (left), conducts fieldwork with her team in the Xishuangbanna China forest plot (right).
María Natalia Umaña and her team
courtesy of 
This NSF-funded program provided an opportunity for a PhD student from Colombia, María Natalia Umaña, who is currently at Michigan State University, to work in the Xishuangbanna China forest plot. She conducted research on rare plants. The Xishuangbanna China plot contains more than 400 plant species, many of which are rare. She collected data on tree seedling species with the help of several local field assistants (Zhigang Chen, Lang Ma, Zhilin Mu, and Yongzheng Shen) and researchers with the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. 

Find original blog announcement here.       

Grants Program

CTFS – ForestGEO awarded six research fellowships to young scientists. CTFS –
ForestGEO awards competitive small fellowships to students and young researchers from across the network to facilitate independent study using the forest plots and promote networking and scientific capacity across geographic boundaries. In 2014, six of 35 submitted research projects were supported.

Find more information about the annual CTFS-ForestGEO Research Grants Program here

Jan Ng
PhD student
United States
Fire effects on tree distributions
Matthew Craig
PhD student
United States
Understanding forest soil carbon dynamics
Yoshiko Iida
Postdoctoral fellow
General flowering in diverse forests
Carlos Jaramillo
staff scientist
Pollen flora across geological times scales
Jiang Zhang
postdoctoral fellow
Drone technology potential in forests
Owen Lewis
associate professor

Papua New Guinea
Insect and flora data using seed traps

Expanding the CTFS-ForestGEO Global Reach

The Department of Energy (DOE) called on CTFS – ForestGEO to be a major player in a global forest ecosystem initiative. Stuart Davies, PhD, Director of CTFS – ForestGEO, was appointed Chief Scientist for the new, international initiative. The DOE initiated a large-scale project through five National Labs called the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment – Tropics. The project is designed to build new Earth System Models to understand future climate impacts, including elevated CO2, on tropical forests. CTFS-ForestGEO will be a critical data source and expert knowledge resource for a major, new science initiative.

A new partnership between CTFS – ForestGEO, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is expanding science and education programs surrounding tropical forest research. CTFS – ForestGEO and NTU will jointly hire a well-established university professor to advance forest research and increase the international visibility of NTU’s Asian School of the Environment. The partnership stems from a broader initiative to develop terrestrial and marine science in Southeast Asia, which is home to some of the most diverse and endemically species-rich tropical forests in the world.                                                       

New plots joined the network in 2014

Six new forest plots in Asia, North America, and Europe provide new research sites for local scientists and build on the diverse forests found in CTFS – ForestGEO plots. Half of the new plots are in China, including two subtropical evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved forests (Baishanzu and Badagongshan), as well as a forest that spans a temperate and subtropical climate in Central China (Baotianman). CTFS – ForestGEO gained a third European plot in Speulderbos, Netherlands, which is a temperate Beech forest. Two North American sites include a forest plot with the University of Michigan and an urban forest plot with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Research Methods

Camera traps are the latest tools used by CTFS – ForestGEO researchers to monitor the elusive vertebrate wildlife in and around the forest plots. Camera-trap data is combined with tree, climate, and human land-use change data to address biodiversity management concerns. In 2014, two species new to the survey were caught on tape in Soberania National Park—coyote and grison, a carnivorous mammal native to South and Central America. The nocturnal Africa civet (Civettictis civetta) was captured on camera in Korup National Park, Cameroon for the first time in three years. Some of this research is done in partnership with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM).

Courtesy of Smithsonian Wild

CTFS- ForestGEO now contributes its vertebrate data to Smithsonian Wild, a Smithsonian Initiative that collates camera-trapping photos online ( from Smithsonian research all over the world. Future plans include the acoustic monitoring of birds, bats, and amphibians and the live trapping of small mammals and their parasites and pathogens.

Find the original blog announcement here.                                                                                

The Smithsonian established a CTFS – ForestGEO inspired marine network. The CTFS – ForestGEO network has become a model for other global biodiversity observatory and monitoring systems. The Smithsonian's new initiative for a MarineGEO program is a good example if this. After several years of developing the idea of a marine counterpart to ForestGEO, the new marine network has formally been established. It will focus on a global understanding of coastal marine ecosystems and is led by long-time professor of ecology and evolution, Emmet Duffy, PhD. 

Recognition for Excellence in Science 

CTFS – ForestGEO researchers Stuart Davies, William McShea, and Stephen Hubbell received globally-recognized awards in forest science. Stuart Davies, Director of CTFS – ForestGEO was awarded the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prize award, a distinguished honor highlighting the importance of his book The Ecology and Conservation of Seasonally Dry Forests in Asia, written in collaboration with William McShea.

Dr. Hubbell accepts his award at 2014 IUFRO
A co-founder of CTFS – ForestGEO, Stephen Hubbell, was recognized for his unprecedented advances in forest science at the XXIV World Congress 2014 by the International Union of Forest Research Organization. He was presented a Scientific Achievement award in October
for his “visionary” research and “unparalleled contributions to understanding the biological diversity and ecology of tropical forests.” Hubbell is currently a Distinguished Professor at UCLA.

Read original announcement here.

Scientific Initative Highlights

Automated dendrometer bands measure hourly changes in tree growth to investigate
tree responses to changing climatic conditions. Tree stem diameter is a fundamental
forest data measurement. It tells researchers about tree growth and potential carbon storage.

However, in the past, the data has been too time consuming to collect more than every one to five years. CTFS – ForestGEO scientists are developing two methods to circumvent this data collection problem. Using automated dendrometer bands called “TreeHuggers” and analyzing photos from digital field cameras, researchers can study forest – climate interactions with very high precision. The bands and photos capture the hourly shrinking and swelling of tree stems during
water transpiration.

The methods are being prototyped at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute CTFS – ForestGEO forest plot in Virginia, USA by scientists Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, Sean
McMahon, and Geoffrey Parker. The methods are being combined with advanced, treewatering experiments at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to test drought effects on tree growth.


In 2014, 41 scientific articles and two book chapters were published using data from CTFS-ForestGEO. Just in 2014, publications affiliated with CTFS – ForestGEO data have been cited in research articles more than 3,000 times (google scholar).

Many articles were published by researchers and countries that face increased obstacles (e.g., language, financial, and scientific barriers) when publishing in globally recognized science journals. In addition, many of the papers have multiple authors and use data from two or more CTFS – ForestGEO plots. This cross-network collaboration exemplifies CTFS – ForestGEO’s vision to promote research that may only be understood when investigating forests across many countries and biomes.

Many notable scientific findings resulted from research published in 2014. An article by Ryan Chisholm and 28 CTFS – ForestGEO researchers highlights collaborative research efforts across 12 of the CTFS – ForestGEO forest plots. The paper highlights that tree population sizes are more stable in forest plots that are high in tree biodiversity. This finding has direct consequences for understanding forest carbon storage in both temperate and tropical climates.

A publication by Nate Stephenson, PhD resulted in news reports from sources including Nature, Archangel Ancient Tree Archives,,, and Science Daily. Stephenson and colleagues discovered that, contrary to popular belief, tree growth does not slow down with age. In fact, the growth of a tree often speeds up with maturity. The paper has already sparked discussion about forest management and the future of the world’s forests.

Two papers led by Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, PhD and Richard Condit, PhD detail the breadth of the last 33 years of CTFS – ForestGEO research, the protocols and data sources that are available, and the methods used to handle extremely complex and big datasets of field measurements.

For a full list of the CTFS-ForestGEO material, visit the publications homepage here. 

December 3, 2014

Michigan Big Woods is the latest plot in the CTFS-ForestGEO network

The University of Michigan’s Edwin S. George Preserve, (aka Michigan Big Woods Plot) is the latest temperate forest to join the CTFS-ForestGEO network. Dr. Christopher Dick is the director of the preserve and said what makes this stand in Livingston County important is that researchers from the University of Michigan have been researching these trees intensively since the 1930s. What this means for researchers is that they now have a standardized way of comparing data from forests around the world. They are currently studying the trees to see what is happening to forests as a result of increased atmospheric carbon.

"At the global level, this forest will now be part of a network of plots used to monitor how biomass and tree mortality change as carbon dioxide continues to increase, as well as the role of forests in taking up some of that excess carbon dioxide," Dr. Dick said. "So this network will be an invaluable tool for tracking forest responses to climate change."

What they expect to see is that a lot of forests, whether tropical or temperate, will experience increased production of wood and increased growth rates. Since the reserve was established in the 1930 , more than 475 research papers have been published using studies carried out wholly or partly at the reserve. More than 80 doctoral dissertations and more than 30 master's theses have resulted from graduate studies at the reserve. Long-term studies at the reserve include decades-old investigations of turtle life histories and reproductive success, a demographic study of the resident white-tailed deer herd, and a study of amphibian communities in 37 ponds on the property.

Visit the CTFS-ForestGEO website to learn more