Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes in Human-Modified Tropical Forests

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Plant Sciences

Abstract

Anthropogenic disturbance and land-use change in the tropics is leading to irrevocable changes in biodiversity and substantial shifts in ecosystem biogeochemistry. Yet, we still have a poor understanding of how human-driven changes in biodiversity feed back to alter biogeochemical processes. This knowledge gap substantially restricts our ability to model and predict the response of tropical ecosystems to current and future environmental change. There are a number of critical challenges to our understanding of how changes in biodiversity may alter ecosystem processes in the tropics; namely: (i) how the high taxonomic diversity of the tropics is linked to ecosystem functioning, (ii) how changes in the interactions among trophic levels and taxonomic groups following disturbance impacts upon functional diversity and biogeochemistry, and (iii) how plot-level measurements can be used to scale to whole landscapes. We have formed a consortium to address these critical challenges to launch a large-scale, replicated, and fully integrated study that brings together a multi-disciplinary team with the skills and expertise to study the necessary taxonomic and trophic groups, different biogeochemical processes, and the complex interactions amongst them.

To understand and quantify the effects of land-use change on the activity of focal biodiversity groups and how this impacts biogeochemistry, we will: (i) analyse pre-existing data on distributions of focal biodiversity groups; (ii) sample the landscape-scale treatments at the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project site (treatments include forest degradation, fragmentation, oil palm conversion) and key auxiliary sites (Maliau Basin - old growth on infertile soils, Lambir Hills - old growth on fertile soils, Sabah Biodiversity Experiment - rehabilitated forest, INFAPRO-FACE - rehabilitated forest); and (iii) implement new experiments that manipulate key components of biodiversity and pathways of belowground carbon flux.

The manipulations will focus on trees and lianas, mycorrhizal fungi, termites and ants, because these organisms are the likely agents of change for biogeochemical cycling in human-modified tropical forests. We will use a combination of cutting-edge techniques to test how these target groups of organisms interact each other to affect biogeochemical cycling. We will additionally collate and analyse archived data on other taxa, including vertebrates of conservation concern. The key unifying concept is the recognition that so-called 'functional traits' play a key role in linking taxonomic diversity to ecosystem function. We will focus on identifying key functional traits associated with plants, and how they vary in abundance along the disturbance gradient at SAFE. In particular, we propose that leaf functional traits (e.g. physical and chemical recalcitrance, nitrogen content, etc.) play a pivotal role in determining key ecosystem processes and also strongly influence atmospheric composition. Critically, cutting-edge airborne remote sensing techniques suggest it is possible to map leaf functional traits, chemistry and physiology at landscape-scales, and so we will use these novel airborne methods to quantify landscape-scale patterns of forest degradation, canopy structure, biogeochemical cycling and tree distributions. Process-based mathematical models will then be linked to the remote sensing imagery and ground-based measurements of functional diversity and biogeochemical cycling to upscale our findings over disturbance gradients.

Planned Impact

This work will be of interest to a broad group of academics such as:

1. Ecological theoreticians, especially in the context of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning
Our manipulative experiments will enable interactions among key organisms to be tested under field conditions.

2. Biogeochemical modellers of forest ecosystems
We will amass a comprehensive dataset used to develop and link existing models of trace gas fluxces in tropical forests.

3. Plant ecophysiologists
We will collate an extensive dataset on plant traits across the SAFE disturbance gradient.
Our manipulate experiments will also use in situ stable isotope labelling to test how plant functional type affects pathways of belowground carbon flux.

4. Soil fungal ecologists, especially with an interst in mycorrhizae
Our manipulative experiments will provide extensive data on the contribution made by external fungal mycelium of both ectomycorrhizas, which associate with heavily-logged dipterocarps, and arbuscular mycorrhizas, which associate with understorey plants.

5. Soil scientists
We will obtain a range of data on soil processes such as nutrient mineralisation and nutrient status and other soil properties in response to experimental manipulations and land-use change.

6. Atmospheric chemists
We will provide unique data obtained at scales from the plot, ecosystem to landdscape. These data will enable us to link disturbance intensity to atmospheric chemistry.

7. Invertebrate ecologists
Our consortium will analyse how human modification has affected invertebrate communities in soil and litter, and the manipulations will test how these changes interact with other focal biodiversity groups.

8. Conservationists
We will investigate how the distribution and abundance of species of conservation concern are related to human modification of forests, and the key biogeochemical processes they undertake. The consortium will provide a rigorous understanding of how human modificationof forests affects a broad range of key ecosystem processes.

9. Technologists
We will use a range of cutting-edge technologies under challenging conditions that will contribute to their further development and refinement for future generations of scientists.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description * object-based approaches for carbon estimation from ALS is no better than simpler area-based regression approaches in the tropical forest of Malaysia. * ability to map oil palm carbon stocks demonstrated; * regression equations developed for measuring forest carbon from LiDAR * maps of leaf N&P show topographic position and not disturbance are the key determinants * El Nino drought resulted in leaf loss, particularly close to edges and on ridgetops * both neutral and niche processes structure tree biodiversity across old-growth landscapes
Exploitation Route provides a simple and consistent approach for monitoring carbon in tropical agricultural and forest systems,
Sectors Environment

URL https://coomeslab.org/
 
Description Our ALS carbon model is being used for statewide mapping of Sabah's forests by the Professor Gregory Asner's team in Stanford. This mapping exercise is supported by Sabah Forestry Department and will be key to planning forest conservation in the state. We are involved in discussions with Sabah's REDD+ team to implement the map in payment for ecosystem service projects. I led a workshop working with the UN-REDD+ project to explain how the carbon map was generated and how it could be used for REDD+
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Antarctic Circumnavigation Experiment 
Organisation Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)
Department Swiss Polar Institute
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provided an instrument to measure isoprene automatically during a circus-Antarctic cruise. This novel instrument was developed by us in the NERC BALI project and was operated byron-specialist staff. Over 60 days of measurements will be made in all in a region where few measurements have been previously made.
Collaborator Contribution Access to the research ship was provided for 4-5 months. A wide range of instruments were also on board which are looking at new particle formation over the Southern Ocean
Impact No scientific outputs yet.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Application of the Sabah statewide forest carbon map to UN REDD+ 
Organisation Sabah Forestry Department
PI Contribution David Coomes to work with the Sabah REDD+ Office at SFD (and their collaborators in other Sabah government departments) to develop the Sabah carbon baseline. The aim is to help the REDD+ team make sense of a statewide carbon map produced by Gregory Asner's team at Carnegie, with a major contribution from NERC HMTF, and how this integrates with estimations they have been working on through their REDD+ work. David shall run a "training day" at SFD in Sandakan, likely on June 29th 2018, with strong potential for this to evolve into a larger capacity building initiative, principally with the Sabah REDD+ Office at SFD but also with other government stakeholders.
Collaborator Contribution We developed the carbon estimation model which enables LiDAR measurements of forest structure to be converted into carbon density estimates, and ultimately maps of carbon. These maps are vital for evaluating ecosystem services provided by forests and potentially pay for those ecosystem services via REDD+. The maps were produced by partners at the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. The CAO team have moved on to other things, leaving Sabah Forestry Department asking many questions without anyone on hand to answer them. My contribution is to invest time explaining the maps to the REDD+ team in Sabah.
Impact none as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description New agreement between the BEFTA Project and the Royal Society South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership 
Organisation South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP)
Country Malaysia 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution We are currently negotiating a MOU with SEARRP to facilitate research collaborations between our study sites in Riau, Indonesia and SEARRP study sites in Sabah, Malaysia.
Collaborator Contribution Shared use of existing experimental set-ups and sharing of data as appropriate to facilitate research collaboration.
Impact No outputs yet - we anticipate this collaboration will become fomally active in mid 2018.
Start Year 2018
 
Description New agreement between the University of Cambridge and SMARTRI in final stages 
Organisation SMART Research Institute
PI Contribution We have finalised a new bilateral agreement between the University of Cambridge and Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Corporation Research Institute (SMARTRI) for matched funding and in-kind support for a new project investigating best management strategies for river margin restoration in the same plantation area. This project is now underway and has strengthened the existing collaboration between SMARTRI and the University of Cambridge.
Collaborator Contribution The agreement is between the University of Cambridge and Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Corporation Research Institute (SMARTRI), our project partners on this grant. This agreement will also facilitate further collaboration with other institutions in the future.
Impact Not yet any outcomes, but post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge employed full-time to run and manage this project and large-scale experiments for this work currently being implemented.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Palm oil plantation measurements 
Organisation Malaysian Palm Oil Board
Country Malaysia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We provided one of our new isoprene instruments which was used by UKM staff to make measurements for 6 weeks in a palm oil plantation operated by the MPOB
Collaborator Contribution UKM provided the personnel to operate the instrument and are leading on the interpretation. MPOB provided the site and local support. A paper on these results is being prepared with a lead author from UKM.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description Palm oil plantation measurements 
Organisation The National University of Malaysia (MUM)
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provided one of our new isoprene instruments which was used by UKM staff to make measurements for 6 weeks in a palm oil plantation operated by the MPOB
Collaborator Contribution UKM provided the personnel to operate the instrument and are leading on the interpretation. MPOB provided the site and local support. A paper on these results is being prepared with a lead author from UKM.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description Blog desicribing the activities of a two-week study tour and related school outreach projects 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog describing the study tour and school outreach activities to disseminate the activities to a wider public audience - see https://fieldworkadventures.wordpress.com/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://fieldworkadventures.wordpress.com/
 
Description Brief printed material to allow participants at the Heart of Borneo Conference in Kota Kinabalu and the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil annual meeting to learn more about the four El Nino Projects 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Brief postcards were produced that could be picked up by participants at both meetings. These were designed to be easily accessible and to give key results about the projects and where to find more information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Day-long research symposium in Pekanbaru, Riau, focussed on the synergostic impacts of habitat and climate change. Delegates from across El Nino-funded projects in Southeast Asia presented to an audience of industry professionals, a representative from the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, and academics from both Malaysian and Indonesian Universities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A series of presentations on key findings related to El Nino Projects from funded projects from across the region. The day finished with a panel of experts and feedback from the audience that identified key future areas of research and future collaboration opportunities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Day-long training workshop run in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge in December 2017 on the use of novel imagery sources in museum outreach for partner El Nino project staff and museum professionals 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A day-long training workshop in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge including inputs from experts on the use of novel imagery sources in museum outreach and discussion between participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description European Conference on Tropical Ecology, Brussels presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation by Sarah Luke: Managing oil palm plantations to maximise biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and yield. Helped to inform the wider tropical ecology community about our research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.soctropecol-2017.eu/
 
Description Participation in the RSPO Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil RT17, Bangkok. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Participation in the RSPO Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil RT17, Bangkok, Thailand. Discussed project with key representatives from the RSPO Biodiversity and HCV Working Group. Meetings and discussion has sparked interest in more presentations and dissemination of information from the project to the RSPO working group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://rt14.rspo.org/
 
Description Presentation at the European Conference on Tropical Ecology, Brussels 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation by Jake Snaddon: Soil biodiversity and ecosystem processes associated with habitat complexity, soil management and replanting in oil palm plantations. Helped to inform the wider tropical ecology community about our research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.soctropecol-2017.eu
 
Description Presentation at the European Conference on Tropical Ecology, Brussels 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation by PhD student, Amelia Hood: The role of ants and termites in supporting ecosystem functioning in oil palm plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia. Helped to inform the wider tropical ecology community about our research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.soctropecol-2017.eu/
 
Description Presentation at the European Conference on Tropical Ecology, Brussels 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation by Edgar Turner: Managing for predators: the role of understory complexity in oil palm. Helped to inform the wider tropical ecology community about our research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.soctropecol-2017.eu/
 
Description Presentation to local interest group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to local interest group, Cambridge Natural History Society. Edgar Turner presented a talk: The environmental impacts of oil palm: good crop/bad crop? Lots of interest and questions from audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation to primary school 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Presentation to local primary school (St Matthew's Primary School) by Edgar Turner on Sumatran rainforests. Featured discussion about what it was like to work in Sumatra. Lots of questions and engagement by pupils and teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to school students visiting Clare College, Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Presentation to Year 12/13 students at Clare College, Cambridge by Edgar Turner on 'Tropical rainforest research'. Excellent level of engagement and lots of questions from students and teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to school teachers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Invited talk to the NUCLEUS group of learned societies, Biology in the real world series, ASE conference, Reading. Edgar Turner, Sponsored by the Linnean Society, delivered an talk 'Biodiversity and tropical agriculture', which featured the project and sparked interest and questions from biology teachers present.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ase.org.uk/ase-regions/anglia/events/2017/01/04/1732/
 
Description Presention about research and insect conservation to Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke, Cambridge. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk. A general presentation about my research at the SAFE and BEFTA sites and the importance of insect conservation in maintaining healthy ecosystem functioning. Good engagement from the audience and questions about the research. Overview of the talk written up in group newsletter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Rainforest talk to year 6 class visiting Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interactive talk about rainforests and habitat change to thirty year six students visiting Clare College, Cambridge. The importance of biodiversity and maintaining healthy ecosystems highlighted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Rainforest talk to year 6 class visiting Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interactive presentation on rainforests to two groups of 30 year six students on rainforests and the importance of biodiversity and conservation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description School engagement visits to schools in Cambridge, UK and Kandis, Indonesia and the development of a school partnership between countries. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We have developed and implemented a school outreach programme by working closely with an outreach professional from the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. This programme involved targeting primary schools near our study site in Riau, Indonesia, as well as schools in Cambridge and setting up a link between schools from these two countries. School visits in both countries have taken place and students will exchange pictures of local wildlife. At both sets of schools we also developed games to explain the importance of biodiversity and conservation to pupils. Researchers from El Nino funded projects in Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG were also trained and practiced delivering this material, so that school visits disseminating the importance of this work can be rolled out to more schools across the region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Science Festival Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A talk was given describing how mathematicians and biologists work together with remote sensing datasets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/events/colons-conservation-applying-image-analysis-real-world-...