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.