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 maumana.wix.com (left), conducts fieldwork with her team in the Xishuangbanna China forest plot (right).
María Natalia Umaña and her team
courtesy of maumana.wix.com 
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 (siwild.si.edu) 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, csi-fm.org, foresteurope.org, 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 

November 3, 2014

CTFS Co-Founder Steven Hubbell receives high honors at the 2014 IUFRO

Dr. Steven Hubbell, Co-Founder of the Center for Tropical Forest Science was presented a Scientific Achievement award at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) opening ceremonies on October 6, 2014. Dr. Hubbell is the first American to be presented with the honor in 40 years.

Dr. Hubbell was chosen for this year’s award because a he's a “visionary scientist who has made unparalleled contributions to understanding the biological diversity and ecology of tropical forests.” He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1983, among many other things. He joined the UCLA faculty in 2007 and is now a Distinguished Professor.
In a 2011 interview, Dr. Hubbell said "We need much better data on the distribution of life on Earth, We need to rapidly increase our understanding of where species are on the planet. We need citizens to record their local biodiversity; there are not enough scientists to gather the information. We also need much deeper thought about how we can estimate the extinction rate properly to improve the science behind conservation planning. If you don't know what you have, it is hard to conserve it.”

He developed his love for ecology at an early age. "When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time doing non-macho things like collecting butterflies and turning over rocks,” he said. “The only way we’re going to save nature is by making sure future generations experience nature.
People who have never seen wild nature don’t miss it and don’t realize how impoverished their lives have become due to its loss. I worry about the loss of a conservation ethic among the public. Go to the tropics. Experience a rain forest — while you still can.”

"I deeply appreciate being nominated for and receiving the IUFRO Scientific Achievement Award,” Dr. Hubbell said. “It is a real pleasure to receive this unexpected honor.”

To learn more about CTFS-ForestGEO, visit our website.

October 22, 2014

New CTFS-ForestGEO Program Manager

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Kristin Powell as the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO) network Program Manager.  Kristin recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, where she researched biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in tropical forests. Prior to her fellowship, she earned her doctoral degree in Ecology and Evolution and her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Kristin’s interest in science coordination and management stems from her past work on several education and plant research initiatives with the Chicago Botanic Garden and Morton Arboretum, the Botanical Society of America, and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning.  When she is not helping to run the CTFS-ForestGEO network at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., you can find her wandering the forest in Shenandoah National Park, running through the D.C. city streets, and rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals during baseball season. Kristin can be reached at PowellK@si.edu. 

To learn more about CTFS-ForestGEO, click here.

October 9, 2014

Review: CTFS-ForestGEO: a worldwide network monitoring forests in an era of global change

CTFS-ForestGEO Scientists, along with 78 global collaborating institutions and global partners published "CTFS-ForestGEO: a worldwide network monitoring forests in an era of global change" in Journal Global Change Biology. The publication highlights the impacts of global climate change on the worlds forests, and the monitoring methods used to collect climate change data. The CTFS-ForestGEO network now monitors 60 plots in 24 countries, monitoring approx. 4.5 million trees. “We look forward to using the CTFS-ForestGEO network to continue to understand how and why forests respond to change, and what this means for the climate, biodiversity conservation and human well-being,” said Stuart Davies, CTFS-ForestGEO network director. 

Below is the abstract of the review: 

Global change is impacting forests worldwide, threatening biodiversity and ecosystem services including climate regulation. 

Understanding how forests respond is critical to forest conservation and climate protection. This review describes an international network of 59 long-term forest dynamics research sites (CTFS-ForestGEO) useful for characterizing forest responses to global change. 

Within very large plots (median size 25 ha), all stems >1 cm diameter are identified to species, mapped, and regularly recensused according to standardized protocols. 

CTFS-ForestGEO spans 25°S–61°N latitude, is generally representative of the range of bioclimatic, edaphic, and topographic conditions experienced by forests worldwide, and is the only forest monitoring network that applies a standardized protocol to each of the world’s major forest biomes.

Supplementary standardized measurements at subsets of the sites provide additional information on plants, animals, and ecosystem and environmental variables.

CTFS-ForestGEO sites are experiencing multifaceted anthropogenic global change pressures including warming (average 0.61 °C), changes in precipitation (up to !30% change), atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfur compounds (up to 3.8 g N m"2 yr"1 and 3.1 g S m"2 yr"1), and forest fragmentation in the surrounding landscape (up to 88% reduced tree cover within 5 km). 

The broad suite of measurements made at CTFS-ForestGEO sites makes it possible to investigate the complex ways in which global change is impacting forest dynamics. 

Ongoing research across the CTFSForestGEO network is yielding insights into how and why the forests are changing, and continued monitoring will provide vital contributions to understanding worldwide forest diversity and dynamics in an era of global change.

For the full review, click here

Email CTFS-ForestGEO program assistant, Delaney Rakosnik at rakosnikd@si.edu if you would like the supplemental information.

Click here to learn more about the CTFS - ForestGEO network.

September 23, 2014

CTFS-ForestGEO grant project report from KC Cushman at Barro Colorado Island, Panama

CTFS-ForestGEO Grants Program recipient, KC Cushman, has been researching her grant proposal “Improving estimates of biomass change in buttressed trees using site-specific tree taper models" in Panama, Thailand, Singapore and Colombia. She recently completed her project and the following is her report:
KC with a buttressed tree in Khao Chong, Thailand
"The amount of biomass stored in any tropical forest can change over time as trees grow, produce new seedlings, and die. Measuring how tropical forest biomass changes over time is important for understanding the global carbon cycle; if tropical forests increase in biomass over time they act as a carbon sink (if trees are growing more than they are dying, on average), but if tropical forests decrease in biomass over time they act as a carbon source (if trees are dying more than they are growing, on average).

CTFS plot in Amacayacu, Colombia.
The diameter measurement height of
each tree is marked in yellow paint.
One tool for studying biomass change is measuring tree diameters in forest plots, such as those in the Center for Tropical Forest Science network. Diameter measurements taken at 1.3 m height are converted to an estimate of total biomass using equations developed in previous research. All trees in a plot are remeasured regularly to determine changes in biomass.
Picture of a tree, a 3-D model
of the same tree constructed
from 43 pictures using
Agisoft PhotoScan, and
trunk outlines extracted from
the 3-D model point using the
program Cloud Compare

However, the prevalence of buttressed trees in tropical forests presents some challenges for this approach. Trees with buttresses are not cylindrical at 1.3 m height, so their diameters are measured higher on the trunk. This practice creates a bias because tree trunks tend to decrease in diameter with height, or taper. Therefore, diameter measurements taken above 1.3 m height will be smaller and yield a lower value for biomass. The magnitude of biomass underestimation in a forest can change over time because measurement heights are often moved up a tree as it grows. This is problematic because biomass appears to change, but the change is not caused by real forest processes. In a previous study on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, we found that biomass trends change significantly after correcting for changing measurement heights in diameter data. Biomass decreased over time in uncorrected data but increased over time in corrected data (Cushman et al. 2014).

Walking to the plot in
Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand
This year, I had the opportunity to follow up on our preliminary study on BCI through research supported by the CTFS-ForestGEO Research Grants Program. I visited four other CTFS plots to compare tree taper in different forests: Amacayacu (Colombia), Bukit Timah (Singapore), Huai Kha Khaeng (Thailand), and Khao Chong (Thailand). In this study, I am also using a novel tool to measure trees by creating 3-D models from digital pictures using Agisoft PhotoScan. I took 30-60 photos of each of approximately 100 trees per plot to create a model of each tree.  I am using these models to measure characteristics of trunk shape at each site, such as how diameter and trunk circularity change with height. Results from trunk shape measurement can then be used to improve estimates of biomass change when diameter measurement heights change over time.
Field Station at
Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit these plots and meet other researchers through the CTFS-ForestGEO network. This work would not have been possible without the support and guidance of collaborators Helene Muller-Landau, Stuart Davies, Sarayudh
Bunyavejchewin, Alvaro Duque, Somboon Kiratiprayoon, and Shawn Lum, and the assistance of Pablo Ramos, Paulino Villareal, Emily Francis, Juan Sebastian Barreto Silva, Gabriel, Pitoon Kongnoo, Mohamah Fairoz, Jonathan, and Reuben in the field."

To learn more about CTFS-ForestGEO, click here