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RPF 2015/16: Forest Restoration and Climate Experiment (FoRCE)

Project: Research project (funded)Internal pump-priming

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Layman's description

Seed-funding to initiate a long-term study to determine how management can stimulate restoration of tropical forests under varying climates.

We propose a “permanent field laboratory” to improve understanding of tropical forest ecology and management. Under the priming fund, a network of plots is needed to develop methods and pilot data. Under subsequent grants we will evaluate tropical forest restoration using an emerging management technique (liana cutting). Following management we will monitor biodiversity, biomass, climate and soil quality. Local and satellite environmental data will be used to extrapolate to the broader region and future climates. The work is pioneering by addressing tropical forest management along a climate gradient, and will focus on Africa, the least-studied continent for ecological restoration.

Key findings

The seed-funding has allowed us to complete the following work:- Establishment of 42 permanent forest vegetation sample plots along an elevation and degradation gradient in Tanzania (with at least 18 more to be established in August-November of this year);- Correlative data analysis to determine preliminary findings on tree and liana (woody climber) basal area patterns with elevation;- Acquisition of remote sensing data for upscaling findings to the broader study region (an internationally recognised hotspot of biodiversity);- Planning and data preparation for a first peer-reviewed publication directly from the work to be submitted in August;- Peer-reviewed paper accepted for publication based on pilot data gathered in preparation for the FoRCE work;- Piloting of methods for collection of climate, wood density, soil and invertebrate data.While only intended to build infrastructure in this first phase, we have made two preliminary findings:(1) The ratio of woody climber (liana) to tree basal area declines abruptly above 1,000m elevation (indicating that their impact on forest restoration is likely reduced above this elevation);(2) Tree basal area is consistently low where the liana:tree basal area ratio is greater than 10-20% (suggesting that restoration management may only be required where lianas exceed this threshold);(3) Soil quality did not differ significantly between degraded and closed canopy forest (indicating that light and climate [not soil] are likely to be the key abiotic drivers of competition between lianas and trees);(4) There was greater invertebrate biomass and biodiversity in closed canopy forests versus degraded forests (indicating their improved health and reduced desiccation).(Follow-up funding expected from the priming fund will allow firm conclusions to be drawn with the important additions of [1] biomass measurements, [2] species identifications, and most important [3] temporal information on change over time after experimental manipulation)OBJECTIVES UNDER THE RPF:(1) Finalise an evolving network of 60 systematically placed permanent forest tree monitoring plots in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park(partially complete - high elevation areas of degraded were hard to find in the intended study forest and hence we will relocate the remaining plots in August/Sept [awaiting new research permit clearance for this site])(2) Pilot sampling of microclimate, wood density, soil fertility and detritivore (millipede) species diversity(all complete - we now have methods for each of these - see some provisional findings above)(3) Trial modelling of tree and liana stem size/density versus environmental predictors and remote-sensing measures of vegetation cover(correlative environmental relationships assessed - see key finding regarding elevation above - remote-sensing assessment underway for imminent journal submission - see above).

I received a large grant from the Australian Research Council directly resulting from this fund (~$1 million), which now pays 5% of my salary at York for 5 years, and will enable me to recruit three PhDs and a postdoc in 2019. We also have funds from the African Wildlife Foundation, IUCN and United Bank of Carbon that will pay for an MSc by research student (~$42,500). Lots of papers and further collaborations in the pipeline. So it was a huge success!
Effective start/end date1/08/1531/07/16

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