August 5, 2014

CTFS-ForestGEO Dimensions of Biodiversity USA - China Student Exchange Program

María Natalia Umaña is a student from Nathan Swenson's Lab who traveled to China to develop a Project in Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) funded by CTFS-ForestGEo Dimensions of Biodiversity USA-China Student Exchange Program. The following is a report she wrote about her trip when she returned: 

"Tropical forests, being important hot spots of biodiversity, harbor a significant number of rare species. Most of the plant species in tropical forests exhibit very restricted distributions and low abundances, while only few species are dominant. Why are so many species rare? Is it because rare spaces have different characteristics compared with common species? Are rare species ill-suited to the available habitats or specialized on rare habitats? These are classic questions in ecology and the main motivation of my PhD project.

In order to assess this question I am measuring the intraspecific variation in functional traits across several species with different relative abundances. Recently, as a part of my Ph.D. research, I traveled to the Xishuangbanna Forest Dynamics Plot (FDP) located in the south of Yunnan Province, China where I collected the functional trait data for seedlings in this tree community. In April 2013, 218 seedling plots were established near the 20-ha Xishuangbanna FDP. All the seedlings were monitored for growth and survival every two months. After one year, in April 2014, a team of 5 Chinese field assistants and I quantified functional trait data from every individual.
I stayed in the field station near the 20-ha FDP during my visit. This region, shaped by extensive mountains ranges, is home to a diverse tree community with over 400 species in the 20-ha plot with most of them being quite rare. During my visit I had the chance to share some time with local people who helped me with fieldwork. Although I arrived to China knowing only few words in Chinese, we were able to set up a nice team and work collaboratively in harmony. The people I met were always very kind and very hard-working. The field assistants have grown up in close partnership with nature and are very familiar with the hundreds of species located in and around the FDP. After our exhaustive field and lab work we now have an extensive data set including trait and demographic information at the individual level. With this data we will be able to evaluate how variable are traits across species with different relative abundances and how this individual level trait variation links with individual performance.

I would like to acknowledge the financial support of CTFS for this fieldwork. Specifically, the Dimensions of Biodiversity IRCN USA-China NSF grant awarded to Dr. Stuart Davies and Dr. Keping Ma funded my travel and this collaborative opportunity. I would also like to thank all of my new Chinese collaborators that were involved in this project from the laboratory of Dr. Min Cao. Specifically, t
his work would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Luxiang Lin, Cai Cai Zhang (a PhD student in Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden), Dr. Yang Jie, Zhigang Chen(field technician), Lang Ma (field technician), Zhilin Mu and Yongzheng Shen (field technician). Our time together yielded great new working relationships and friendships."

To learn more about Xishuangbanna Forest Dynamics Plot: