Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in degraded and recovering Amazonian and Atlantic forests

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE

Abstract

Tropical forests hold more species of plant and animal than any other kind of terrestrial environment, and store large amounts of greenhouse gases in their trees and soils. Yet most of us are aware that they are also highly threatened by human activities, with media attention often focussing on deforestation - when forests are replaced with alternative land-uses, such as agriculture and cattle ranching. However, forests are also being modified in other ways, when trees are felled for the commercial extraction of timber, or when forest burn in abnormally dry years. These events are known as forest degradation, and affect a larger area of land than deforestation alone.

The widespread nature of forest degradation means it is very important to understand whether these human-modified forests are performing similar roles as intact primary forests. How much carbon and nitrogen do they hold, and are these nutrients cycled between the leaves and the forest floor at similar rates as in primary forests? Can these ecosystem processes by predicted by characteristics of the vegetation itself (such as leaf shape and format, and the rate it carries out photosynthesis). And crucially, what are the implications of these changes for the future of these forests - are they able to resist additional modification? This project will answer these questions in two separate Brazilian biomes, the Atlantic Forests of Sao Paulo and the Amazon forests near the city of Santarem. The data we collect in two years of fieldwork will be used to improve our understanding of forest functioning, and can help develop computer simulations of forests. These simulations can then be used to examine how forests may respond to changes in climate, or other human impacts such as logging or fire.

These forests are also crucial for biodiversity conservation, as many rare and endemic species are only found in landscapes where forests have already been heavily modified by humans. It is important to assess to what extent they help conserve these species, and what factors could be managed to improve their conservation value. Tropical forests hold a bewildering number of species, and so many of these species are yet to be described. It is therefore important to focus on groups of species which are well known, making birds and plants are two ideal species groups.

The detailed work on forest functioning will take place in a limited number of forest plots, as we are limited by the many precise measures that need to be taken over time. In contrast, biodiversity is much quicker to sample, allowing us to examine much larger areas of around one million hectares in the Amazon and in the Atlantic Forest. As well as examining biodiversity in these landscapes, this project will also assess changes in species traits, which are characteristics that link species to the many tasks they perform in nature. By doing so, we will be able to examine the extent to which human-modified forests are losing key ecosystem processes, such as pollination from long-beaked hummingbirds, or the ability of trees to assimilate and store large quantities of carbon. This will provide us with a much better idea of how the many different kinds of human activity are affecting biodiversity, which is important if we are to design landscapes that help protect the many species of conservation concern.

For too long, important scientific knowledge has remained locked away in learned journals, and has failed to inform and influence policies. We are determined not to let this happen with our research, as we believe it will produce important insights that can help us preserve the ecological stability of tropical forests and the biodiversity they contain. To facilitate these impacts, we will make every effort to disseminate our findings. These activities include producing a series of short films for YouTube, linking with local schools, and writing policy briefs.

Planned Impact

The scaling up of the tropical forest simulator in Objective 3 will provide guidance on the vulnerability of tropical forest systems to anthropogenic modification, including the synergistic threats of forest degradation and climate change induced droughts. This is relevant for IPCC, the Conferences of Parties of the UNFCCC, and global non-governmental organisations such as The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International.

Objective 2 and 3 will provide precise policy options outlining the environmental and social benefits of avoiding degradation and encouraging forest restoration for the municipalities of Santarém-Belterra in the Amazon and for c. 30 municipalities that cover the region of interest in the Paraiba do Sul basin in São Paulo. This information will help State and Federal policy makers in Brazil to evaluate existing policies and test new possibilities.

Objective 1 will help inform the managers of protected areas (Serra do Mar park and the Tapajós National Forest) about the sustainability of forest management activities and their impact on forest dynamics and biodiversity. Specifically, this will address reduced impact logging in the Tapajós National Forest and the long-term impacts of conventional logging in the Serra do Mar.

Publications

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Berenguer E (2018) Tree growth and stem carbon accumulation in human-modified Amazonian forests following drought and fire. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Burton C (2018) Inter-comparison and assessment of gridded climate products over tropical forests during the 2015/2016 El Niño. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Jimenez JC (2018) Spatio-temporal patterns of thermal anomalies and drought over tropical forests driven by recent extreme climatic anomalies. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Rifai SW (2018) ENSO Drives interannual variation of forest woody growth across the tropics. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Withey K (2018) Quantifying immediate carbon emissions from El Niño-mediated wildfires in humid tropical forests. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

 
Description We have been liaising with state governments about the threat of fires spreading in Amazonian forests.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
 
Description A destruição que ninguém vê: article in Ciência hoje 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Brazilian magazine Ciência hoje is one of the major science dissemination magazines in Brazil. In April 2016 it published an article by ECOFOR researchers in which they explain the impacts of deforestation and forest degradation to the wide public. The article has been shared widely on social media, as well as attracting response from the public in the comments space.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cienciahoje.org.br/revista/materia/id/1046/n/a_destruicao_que_ninguem_ve
 
Description ATBC Montpellier - a presentation by Erika Berenguer 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Erika Berenguer presented the preliminary results of the ECOFOR project at the ATBC 2016 in Montpellier. Her presentation was very well-attended and was followed by numerous questions from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Article about the El Nino fires in the Ecologist 
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 In December 2015, the online magazine Ecologist published the article by Jos Barlow and Erika Berenguer about the El Nino fires in the Amazon. The Ecologist is a well-established and widely read amongst general public with interest in Ecology and has contributed towards raising the awareness about the research of the ECOFOR researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2986546/18000_fires_rage_in_brazils_amazon_rainforest...
 
Description Article in Nature World News quoting Jos Barlow 
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 In June 2016 the Nature World News, a website featuring science news, research, and articles, published an article based on Jos Barlow's paper published in the Nature. The article informs the general public about the issue of wildfires in tropical forests and has generated a reaction from the public in the comments space.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/24506/20160630/amazon-rainforest-wildfires-biodiversity-defo...
 
Description BBC article: Amazon fires: Humans make rainforest more flammable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In June 2016, BBC News online published an article by ECOFOR researchers about the influence of humans on rainforests, BBC News is one of the most widely read news servers and the article has drawn a significant attention to the work of ECOFOR researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36656443
 
Description ECOFOR/ RAS Policy Briefs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Members of the ECOFOR project have produced a series of 5 policy briefs to inform the general public about our findings. These were first presented at the RAS (Rede Amazonia Sustentavel) symposium in December 2016. These policy briefs compile data from 7 years of research in the state of Para, combining socio-economic and environmental data, They address the 5 following areas of our research:
- Wildfires
- The impacts of forest degradation
- Streams and rivers
- Efficient environmental regularization
- Ways to sustainable landscapes
The Policy Briefs are being distributed amongst researchers and general public to inform them about the results of our research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ecofor.hmtf.info/ecofor-policy-briefs/
 
Description Erika Berenguer's presentation at RAS symposium in Belem 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the RAS symposium in Belem, Erika Berenguer delivered a presentation 'Fogo sem controle: o dano sem beneficio' about the effects of wildfire in tropical forests. Her presentation was very well attended and was followed by numerous questions from the audience on the issue of wildfires.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Jos Barlow's presentation at RAS symposium in Belem 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the RAS symposium in Belem, Jos Barlow delivered the presentation 'A saude das florestas Amazonicas' ('The Health of Amazon Rainforests'). His presentation was very well attended and was followed by numerous questions from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lancaster University press release on the Nature article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In June 2016, Lancaster University published at its website a press release of the article by Jos Barlow published in Nature ("Anthropogenic disturbance in tropical forests can double biodiversity loss from deforestation"). The press release has drawn the attention of the University's students, researchers and academic staff to the work of ECOFOR researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/lec/news-and-events/news/2016/fighting-deforestation-alone-fails-tropical...
 
Description RAS symposium in Belem 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The symposium was organized by Rede Amazônia Sustentável (RAS) and took place in December 2016. It was a unique opportunity for researchers, policy - makers and leaders of the civil society to meet up and discuss policies related to the rapidly changing region of Eastern Amazon. The researchers from the RAS network, many of whom are also members of the ECOFOR project, shared the results of their research and their views on how to approach sustainability from the ecological, social and economic perspective.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://simposioamazoniasustentavel.org/
 
Description Traits meeting in the Pyrenees lead by Oxford on traits analysis across the tropics 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact In June 2016, researchers from various projects involved in the traits campaigns across the tropics discussed their results and possible new collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016