Explaining niche separation in tropical forests: feedbacks between root-fungal symbioses and soil phosphorus partitioning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Inst of Biological and Environmental Sci

Abstract

High diversity is a striking feature of almost all tropical forests, which provide numerous important ecosystem functions, and contribute to the resilience of communities in response to global change. Although several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the origin and maintenance of tropical forest diversity, recent theoretical work suggest that resource partitioning for soil phosphorus (P) is likely to be one of the main contributors to tropical plant diversity and coexistence. However, we currently lack vital experimental evidence to test this hypothesis, which requires understanding the relationships among mycorrhizal plant and fungal diversity, and soil P fractions in these systems, and how these associations relate to P utilisation. In this proposal, we will therefore determine the network of interactions among plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the field, and show using manipulation experiments whether this is related to edaphic factors, and in particular the composition and structure of the soil P pool. This aim requires coupling a comprehensive and unique dataset of spatial analyses of plant diversity with new analyses of mycorrhizal fungal diversity and soil nutrient pools in pristine tropical forest, and novel manipulation experiments. This project will show whether, despite overall nutrient limitation, the diversity of a mineral fraction in the soil is a driver of plant hyperdiversity. This will make a step-change in our understanding of the role of soil biodiversity in niche separation.
The project will provide mechanistic insight into the maintenance of hyper-diverse plant communities and make a step-change in our understanding of the role of soil biodiversity in niche separation within tropical tree communities. It targets NERC priority areas in biodiversity, and will aid stakeholders who are charged with managing plant and soil biodiversity and the goods and services provided by tropical ecosystems (see Pathways to Impact).

Planned Impact

Our project will help understand the mechanisms that maintain the remarkable richness of tree species found in pristine SE Asian tropical forests. It will also highlight the importance of above-below ground interactions and encourage conservation organisations to have broad perspectives on how to conserve these keystone ecosystems. Because it impacts on several aspects of tropical forest ecology and sustainability it will be of interest to a broad range of end-users and stakeholders.

1. Politicians in Malaysia and the UK who seek to find a balance between timber production and forest sustainability

Examples: The Sabah State Government is committed to sustainable forest management through it current forestry policy and will benefit from evidence-based understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that determine biogeochemical cycling and maintenance of forest biodiversity. We will seek to inform and influence these policies through on-going interactions with the Sabah Forestry Department and contributions to local media. Similarly the UK and devolved governments have policies to limit procurement of tropical timber to well-managed forests and will benefit from blue-skies research that provides the evidence base for an understanding of the determinants of tropical forest sustainability.

2. Private sector companies who seek to exploit lowland tropical forests for commercial reasons

Examples: Sustainable timber production from forests is dependent on maintenance of functioning biogeochemical cycles that are themselves heavily reliant on plant-microbial interactions. Although the role and importance of mycorrhizal interactions will not be well-known to timber producers, they will be understood by technical staff in forest nurseries who generate seedlings for re-planting programmes. To reach this audience we will target training in mycorrhizal inoculation techniques for staff of the nurseries that supply seedlings for large-scale rehabilitation of degraded logged forests adjacent to the Danum Valley Conservation Area.

3. National and international organisations who have remits for conservation of tropical diversity, e.g. WWF, International Mycological Association, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Examples: We are already active in the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, and our research will therefore inform the development of conservation assesments and advice that feeds into the international conservation policy agenda. Data on the identity, role and conservation status of tropical fungi are currently very limited, therefore the new data from our project will achieve a high profile in discussions around conservation policy for tropical fungi. Indirectly, our work will also be relevant to the needs of those with interests in understanding the causes and importance of plant diversity more generally, including the UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group (UK BRAG) who highlight the urgent need to understand the link between plant and microbial functional diversity.

4. The Sabah Tourism Board and the Sabah Foundation

Examples: Tourism policy in Sabah is heavily based on its remaining patches of primary tropical forest such as the DVCA. We will generate display and education materials for the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and the Rainforest Discovery Centre summarising research findings in a manner accessible to local and foreign tourists.

5. The general public through educational activities associated with the project (see Pathways to Impact)

Examples: The future of tropical rainforests is of concern to the general public in the UK and Malaysia and publicity for forest destruction can elicit negative responses, while support for NGOs and organisations supporting conservation and restoration of tropical forest remains strong. We will access these groups using our website, contributions to media, popular articles, talks and interactive sessions and events targeting public engagement with science.
 
Description We have discovered that different tropical tree species access different chemical forms of the key limiting plant nutrient in tropical forests from soils. This difference among tree species is related to the major group of fungi that colonize their roots, termed mycorrhizas. Fungi of the ectomyocrrhizal type are able to access complex organic sources of P, while those of the arbuscular mycorrhizal type can only access inorganic forms of P in soil. This difference may help to explain the dominance of ectomycorrhizal trees in Southeast Asian rain forests.
Exploitation Route This information will be useful to ecologists and foresters concerned with rehabilitation of degraded tropical forest soils, which may have lost their organic matter and therefore their stocks of organic P able to support regeneration of ectomycorrhizal trees.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The results of this research have been used as raw material for training research assistants in Malaysia. This has enhanced their capacity to implement research in association with local agencies such as the Sabah Forestry Department, and the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, thus contributing to overseas development in a LMIC. Policy makers in the forestry sector in Sabah, Malaysia, attended my presentation at the Heart of Borneo conference 2017, which contributed to an emerging consensus that an additional 400,000 ha of forest in Sabah should be set aside as protected area. Two Malaysian postgraduate students who were funded to attend the Tropical Biology Association field course at Danum Valley Field Centre in October 2018 have increased capacity for research in tropical forest ecology and management.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Development of new protected areas in Sabah
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Rainforest Trust
Amount £750,000 (GBP)
Organisation Rainforest Trust 
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2021
 
Description Spatio-TEmporal Dynamics of Forest Response to ENSO Drought (STEED)
Amount £255,076 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P004806/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 05/2018
 
Description UNDP-GEF
Amount $532,522 (USD)
Organisation United Nations (UN) 
Department United Nations Development Programme
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 07/2016 
End 05/2018
 
Title Archived data 
Description Data-sets generated by the project are being archived during the publication process. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet. 
 
Description Biotechnology Research Institute, Universiti of Malaysia Sabah 
Organisation Malaysian University of Sabah
Department Biotechnology Research Institute
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Discussion and support of PhD students working on projects aligned to our research.
Collaborator Contribution Access to laboratories and infrastructure for analysis of plant and soil material in Sabah.
Impact No outputs yet.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Forest Research Centre Sepilok 
Organisation Forest Research Centre
Country Malaysia 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution We have engaged with the Forest Research Centre, which is part of the Sabah Forestry Department, for work on soil chemistry and collaboration on pot experiments involving tropical tree seedlings. Members of our research team have visited the centre, conducted training and implemented experiments in collaboration with local scientists.
Collaborator Contribution Staff at the Forest Research Centre have provided access to nursery space, laboratory infrastructure and advice on species and sites for research.
Impact 1. Data-sets on plant and soil chemistry. 2. Experiments on responses of tree seedlings to experimental P addition.3. Publications.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute 
Organisation Smithsonian Institution
Department Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Country Panama 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Addition of a site to a global network of plots where soils are being sampled and analysed in a consistent manner.
Collaborator Contribution Chemical analysis of soil
Impact No outputs yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description Consultancy report on inventory methods for estimating carbon storage in High Carbon stock forests 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Contribution to an evaluation and summary of methodologies for estimating carbon storage in High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry-led body seeking to improve the environmental and social sustainability of oil palm production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.simedarby.com/sustainability/clients/simedarby_sustainability/assets/contentMS/img/templa...
 
Description Discussion with Food Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion with the Science Unit at Food Scotland regarding the results of research on the multi-elemental concentrations in tea, influenced by NERC research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Discussion with Sabah NGOs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Discussion with Sabah NGOs BCI and PACOS on approaches for communicating prioritisation analyses for new protected areas to local communities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Doors Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The annual Doors Open Day is an engagement event for the general public show-casing University research. A stand based on our NERC-funded research attracted a lot of attention and question from children and adults, many of whom reported never having stepped inside a University building before.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Food Crime Unit discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dialogue with the Food Crime Unit within Food Scotland regarding the evidence for misrepresentation of products labelled as Scottish tea, influenced by results of NERC-funded research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description General talk to a public audience (Friends of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Invitation to present a talk in the seminar series of the Friends of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden, which stimulated debate among members in relation to horticultural implications of my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description International Year of Soils (seminar in Aberdeen) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to about 50 trainee school teachers on the subject of soils and my research, connected the International Year of Soils
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Keynote presentation at Efforts Symposium, Bali 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Keynote presentation at a symposium organised to mark the end of phase funding by DFG to researchers at Gottingen University and their collaborators in various Indonesian universities. The event provided a useful opportunity for networking with Indonesian and German scientists and to engage in discussions around future research priorities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Meeting with UNDF GEF Small Grants Programme National Coordinator for Malaysia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting with UNDF GEF Small Grants Programme National Coordinator for Malaysia on the identification of "other effective area based conservation measures" (OECMs), and their potential interest to co-fund future work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description NESBREC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I participate in the Northeast Scotland Biological Recording Centre Advisory Group, which supports the work of biological records in Northeast Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Presentation at the Scottish Tea Factory 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation to a group of Scottish Tea Industry growers and retailers on the results of a Tea Authentication study influenced by NERC funded research. The event at the Scottish Tea Factory was attended by media representatives and others who have subsequently highlighted the study in local media and websites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://issuu.com/theperthshiremagazine/docs/feb_issue
 
Description Presentation to Sabah stakeholders at the Danau Girang Field Centre's Science Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on NERC-funded research to Sabah stakeholders at the Danau Girang Field Centre's Science Seminar (part of a two-day event)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation to Tea Gardens of Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to a group of Scottish Tea Growers on the results of research influenced by NERC funding, which contributed to discussion about the development of an authentication method for Scottish grown tea.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description REDD+ workshop Sabah Forestry Department 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A day-long workshop was held with the Sabah State REDD+ Project group to introduce members of that team to results from NERC-funded research on carbon and biodiversity accounting in Sabah. This involved a training component and an information dissemination component, and an assessment of future needs for capacity building and future research opportunities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SNH Sharing Good Practice event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I participated in a Sharing Good Practice event organised by Scottish Natural Heritage on the subject of woodland restoration, which included a presentation by me to an audience of professional conservation practitioners and from the public, private and third sectors. The day-long event involved plenary presentations and a series of workshops designed to share good practice in woodland restoration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar on interim outputs on Prioritization with DFOs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A seminar was held to brief District Forest Officers of the Sabah Forestry Department on the interim outputs of a prioritization exercise for selecting new protected areas in Sabah, influenced by NERC-funded research on the distribution of functional diversity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar to brief District Officers (i.e. local government) in Sabah 
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 Seminar to brief District Officers (i.e. local government) in Sabah on the second iteration outputs of prioritisation analyses for new protected areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Seminar to brief Sabah Forestry Department on the results of prioritisation analysis for new protected areas 
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 Seminar to brief Sabah Forestry Department on the results of prioritisation analysis for new protected areas in Sabah, influenced by NERC-funded research on the distribution of functional diversity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Seminar to brief officials in Sabah Parks on prioritisation analysis 
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 Seminar to brief officials from Sabah Parks (State government department) on prioritisation analyses for new protected areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description TBA attendance at Danum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation to attendees on a month-long field course at Danum Valley in Sabah, Malaysia, regrading NERC-funded research at the field station. Attendees on TBA courses are an equal proportion of European and Southeast Asian students, and most of the Southeast Asian are postgraduate students who will continue as academics or conservation managers in their home countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk to Westhill Gardening Club 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I presented a talk to a local gardening club, which was informed by my on-going NERC-funded research. This sparked questions and debate afterwards, reflecting the horticultural implications of some of my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Training workshop on R 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A 2-day training workshop in the use of R was held for government departments, NGOs and Universiti of Malaysia Sabah postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UNDP Project Dissemination workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop was held for forestry and land management professionals to disseminate the results of biodiversity monitoring research in Sabah. The workshop comprised a series of presentations and demonstrations by project team members, with follow-up discussion in break-out groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018