October 3, 2016

ForestGEO Researchers Receive New Funding to Explore Forest Function

A National Science Foundation grant of nearly $1 million will fund new research at two ForestGEO sites – Harvard Forest and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) starting later this year.  The $965,000 award was granted to University of Maryland Associate Professor and ForestGEO partner Nathan Swenson, ForestGEO Director Stuart Davies, and Temperate Forest Program Coordinator Sean McMahon to investigate forest function from genes to canopies. The research aims to quantify how inter- and intra-annual differential gene expression in leaves and genotypic differentiation are related to leaf level gas exchange, fine scale measurements of tree growth, and carbon dioxide flux measured at the scale of forest canopies.

Forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide makes them integral to regulating climate change. But the thousands of individual trees within a forest vary greatly in their physiological and growth response to environmental change. In order to predict future forest functioning, individual leaf processes need to be linked to larger forest level processes. This research will use innovative new technology and specific measurements of individual tree growth and physiology to address this challenge.  

Harvard Forest, USA
“The work uniquely scales from genes to ecosystems while simultaneously considering spatial and temporal variation in forest function”, said Swenson. “Ecology is entering a exciting new age where the substantial advances made in genome and transcriptome sequencing can now be utilized in non-model organisms in the wild. Coupling these advances in ‘omics with detailed measurements of plant performance from the leaf to the canopy scale was thought to be impossible only a few years ago and it is expected to transform ecology”.

Harvard Forest and SERC are also part of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), which is supported by NSF. It is a network of ecological observation facilities with sites across the U.S. that gathers and analyzes data on climate change, land use change, invasive species, and how these influence biodiversity and natural resources. Goals of NEON include forecasting continental-scale environmental change, informing natural resource decisions, and engaging the next generation of scientists.

August 17, 2016

Dr. Stephen Hubbell wins prestigious International Prize for Biology

CTFS-ForestGEO co-founder Stephen P. Hubbell will receive this year’s International Prize for Biology, awarded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The committee on the International Prize, chaired by Dr. Takashi Sugimura, announced its selection earlier last week for the specialized field of “Biology of Biodiversity”. The International Prize for Biology is one of the highest scientific honors given by Japan. The prize is granted to Dr. Hubbell for his exceptional contributions to biological and ecological research.

Dr. Hubbell’s long and remarkable career covers a wide-range of research topics including tropical plant ecology, resource competition, animal behavior, and theoretical ecology. He has authored four books and more than 220 scientific papers. He is perhaps most widely known for his unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography that offers a nontraditional explanation for the diversity and relative abundance of species in ecological communities. The theory has spawned a significant growth in research in theoretical ecology.

Currently Dr. Hubbell is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the Life Sciences Division at University of California, Los Angeles. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advance­ment of Science. He is also founding chairman of the National Council for Science and the Environment, an organization whose mission is to improve the scientific basis of environmental decision-making.

In 1980 Dr. Hubbell helped establish the Barro Colorado Island forest plot in Panama, the first of CTFS-ForestGEO’s sites.

August 3, 2016

Workshop fosters cooperation and collaboration for group of global forest ecologists

The Center for Tropical Forest Science - Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO) in partnership with the Chinese Forest Biodiversity Monitoring Network (CForBio) held its annual data analysis workshop this month. The workshop is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Dimensions of Biodiversity Program and was hosted by the Chinese Academy of Forestry at the Jianfengling 60ha forest plot on Hainan Island in southeast China. The grant, entitled “Dimensions US-China: Integrating the functional, phylogenetic and genetic components of diversity for improved an understanding of forest change and biodiversity” funds annual workshops for graduate students, postdocs, and senior scientists to gather and collaborate on their research and exchange data and ideas.

The group included 65 participants hailing from 20 countries spanning North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. All participants worked diligently and were pleased with the amount of science and training accomplished during the two week workshop.

Workshop participants in Hainan, China (photo credit: Yao Tze Leong)
Breakout group on demography related to diversity (Yao Tze Leong)
The workshop mission was to bring together a global network of forest researchers to foster research advances and scientific collaborations. This is carried out though an ongoing collaboration between CTFS – ForestGEO and the CForBio with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Among 51 plots in the CTFS-ForestGEO and CForBio networks, a vast amount of research is being done on how dimensions of biodiversity are changing in forests. Forests everywhere are under threat from deforestation, pollution, invasive species, degradation, and climate and atmospheric change. Understanding and analyzing the data on tree species functional traits, phylogeny, and genetics from the network will inform predictions of forests’ dynamic responses to anthropogenic change.

Sabrina Russo mentors a breakout group (Yao Tze Leong)
Participants worked tirelessly to curate and analyze the immense amount of data pouring out of the global network. The approach centered around small “break out” groups focused on how the dimensions of forest biodiversity regulate the dynamics of tropical forests around the world. Each group received close hands-on mentoring by senior scientists associated with Smithsonian Institute and CTFS-ForestGEO. Participants were guided through the analyses and writing stages of their projects in order to produce manuscripts intended for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Erandathi Ekanayake presents findings to her group (Yao Tze Leong)
This intense work schedule was punctuated by lively group meals, happy hours, and lots of joking and cultural exchange. Each day was bookended by lectures from the postdocs and scientists in attendance. Among the notable mentors this year was Steve Hubbell who gave a lecture on forest diversity. A highlight for many participants was the day trip to the Jianfengling 60 ha forest dynamic plot, which is a tropical submontane rainforest notable for its adaptation to seasonal typhoon disturbances. The 65 researchers all trekked the 5 km through bouts of torrential downpours- a proud testament to the fieldwork experience and fortitude possessed by the participants!

Han Xu leads the field trip to the Jianfengling plot (Yao Tze Leong)
Aaron Hogan takes a dbh measurement during the field trip (Yao Tze Leong)
The workshop culminated in an all-day symposium where each participant gave 5-minute lightning talks about their projects and the progress they had made during the workshop. There is no doubt that dozens of CTFS-ForestGEO manuscripts published this year will be largely thanks to the hard work accomplished in Hainan!  

The friendships and connections fostered among participants made the last day bittersweet, but all agreed to prioritize attending the next annual workshop in the USA. 

2016 Workshop in Hainan, China

March 11, 2016

CTFS – ForestGEO congratulates the 2015 Research Grant Program awardees!

CTFS – ForestGEO is very pleased to announce the awardees of the 2015 Research Grants Program. The 2015 cycle was highly competitive and received 37 diverse proposals submitted from around the world. Six proposals were selected for funding based on their innovative contributions to the ForestGEO network and their scientific and educational goals. 

Kendall Becker, a PhD student at Utah State University will study Controls on post-fire seedling recruitment in the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot, California, USA. The analyses will explore the relative importance of dispersal, viability, predation, and microclimate controls on post-fire seedling recruitment, which will improve models of post-fire forest response in the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot.

Andrea Drager, a PhD student at Rice University in Houston, TX, will explore Staying connected: how pollination relates to tree density in the Afrotropics. The research will provide baseline pollination and trait data in the Korup Forest Dynamics Plot, a hotspot of endemic plant biodiversity. The data will help researchers understand how rare species persisting at low densities relate to biodiversity maintenance in species-rich tropical forests.

Scott Stark, a Post-doctoral Research Associate at Michigan State University, will explore a Rapidly advancing understanding of size-structured forest dynamics in temperate and tropical forests with a highthroughput remote sensing approach. The research will use light detection and ranging (LiDAR), a remote sensing platform for estimating forest biomass in the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Barro Colorado Island Forest Dynamics Plots. The use of LiDAR will provide a 3-D estimation of the structure of canopy leaf area and light environments to understand tree size-structure in terms of biomass.

 James Dyer, a professor at Ohio University, will explore Using a Water Balance Approach to Examine Temperate Forest Dynamics in Complex Terrain. The research will present a method of modeling moisture availability and demand in three CTFS – ForestGEO sites in the US, including the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Lilly Dickey Woods, and Tyson Research Center. The new method of modeling will offer the ability to quantify moisture conditions in both relative and absolute terms, producing values directly comparable at both ForestGEO sites.

Ekaphan Kraichak, a lecturer in Botany at Kasetsart University in Thailand, will study the Relative Importances of Host Characters and Spatial Structure on Tropical Epiphytic Communities.  Ekaphan Kraichak has previously completed a survey of all epiphytic cryptogams in the University of California Santa Cruz Forest Ecology Research Plot (UCSC-FERP). This project will provide a comprehensive list of cryptogam species for the Khao Chong Forest Dynamics Plot in Thailand to serve as a comparison on the relative influences of host characters and spatial structure on epiphytic communities.

Terhi Riutta, a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the University of Oxford, will work on Quantifying ecosystem effects of insect herbivory on common oak in Wytham Woods, UK. The research will provide the first estimates of the effects of insect herbivores on biogeochemical cycles in the Wytham Woods Forest Dynamics Plot and will assess the wider ecosystem effects of insect herbivory.

For a list of all CTFS – ForestGEO Grants Program awardees, see our website.

March 8, 2016

New Special Feature by the British Ecological Society, “Demography Beyond the Population,” includes 3 new ForestGEO articles!

There is a new Special Feature of the British Ecological Society (BES) Journals that includes CTFS – ForestGEO data from Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, and Panama!

This exciting collaborative and interdisciplinary Special Feature, Demography Beyond the Population, integrates original lines of research in the vast field of demography. The articles featuring ForestGEO data are found in the Journal of Ecology and Functional Ecology.

The Case of Ash Dieback
How can we use modeling to forecast the response of forests to ash dieback disease? Jessica Needham and colleagues built models that predict forest community response to the loss of Fraxinus excelsior L. (European ash) using demographic data from Wytham Woods. Their methodology introduces a new way to identifying demographic strategies such as growth, survival, and fecundity and linking them to population dynamics. This is done through integral projection and individual-based models that project community responses to significant tree mortality that will influence regeneration in woodlands across the globe.

Climate Change and Second-Growth Forests
How can we address uncertainties in predicting responses of second-growth forests to climate change? Maria Uriarte and colleagues present a neighborhood modeling approach to tackle uncertainties in a second-growth tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico. The dynamic nature and high species diversity of second-growth forests led Maria Uriarte and colleagues to identify traits to better understand how individual trees and species will contribute to forest successional change. Specifically, a hierarchical Bayesian approach was used to provide insight into the variation in drought tolerance and consequences for successional trajectories in tropical rainforests given shifts in climate.

Functional Traits as Good Predictors
How can functional biology help us better understand tropical forest dynamics? Marco Visser and colleagues use functional traits as predictors of vital rates across the life-cycle of tropical trees in Barro Colorado Island, Panama. This model-averaging approach lessens the uncertainty in predictive power of functional traits by identifying easily measured traits that are good predictors of life history and demographic performance. In this case, wood density, seed mass, and adult stature served as good predictors of life history.

For more information, please click here for the editorial and here for a Methods in Ecology and Evolution blog that features CTFS – ForestGEO Ecologist, Sean McMahon.