Center for Tropical Forest Science receives grant to study diversity of tree communities

The Center for Tropical Forest Science, a joint research program of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, has been awarded a five-year, $631,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The Center for Tropical Forest Science, which manages a global network of temperate and tropical forest research plots, will utilize the funds to conduct workshops in the Americas and Asia to investigate how taxonomic, functional, and genetic dimensions of diversity affect tree communities and their resilience to global change.

Image right:   Plot workers use a ladder to measure the diameter of a tropical tree above the butress roots in the Smithsonian’s “Tropical Forest Observatory” on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. This large area of forest has been monitored since 1985 in an effort to understand biological diversity and global change. (Photo by Marcos Guerra)

The project brings together two existing forest research networks in the United States and China, which provide demographic, phylogenic, and environmental data on thousands of tree species. Through a series of symposia, analytical workshops, and international scientific exchanges, the collected data will determine:

* The functional traits that underlie species demographics and distributions across environments;
* How functional traits and phylogenetic relatedness of communities link to forest function;
* How functional traits and environmental tolerances vary among individuals within species;
* How gene flow contributes to genetic diversity at local and regional scales.

By combining long-term temperate and tropical forest studies across entire tree communities, CTFS will be able to create models incorporating functional and genetic variation among species in order to test predictions about current and future forest changes.

The project will be implemented through a series of training initiatives that will expand our understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem processes and enhance international collaboration. The strengthening of the network of forest research plots in Asia and the Americas will have long-term benefits for scientists examining the role of forests in a changing global environment. Workshops and symposia will engage approximately 100 students and early-career scientists over the next five years, including an international scientific exchange program for scientists drawn from the US, China, and other developing countries in Asia and the Americas. In addition, the workshops will stimulate the development of new analytical tools and data compilations that will be made available to online audiences globally.

The team assembled for this project includes: Stuart J. Davies, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University (principal investigator);  Nathan G. Swenson, Michigan State University;  John Kress, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Rick Condit, Center for Tropical Forest Science, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; and Helene Muller-Landau, STRI (Co-Principal Investigators); Liza Comita, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; S. Joseph Wright, STRI; Dr. Ma Keping, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Cao Min, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Yunnan; Dr. Hao Zhanqing, Institute of Applied Ecology, Shenyang; and Mi Xiangcheng, IBCAS (senior personnel).

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