Towards and Indian observatory of tropical forest response to climate change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography

Abstract

The tropics are warming and the frequency of extreme heat events, often accompanied by drought, is increasing across most of the tropical forest biome. It is currently unclear what the effects of increasing heat on tropical forests will be. This key question is the focus of the current IOF proposal, based on three integrated strands of NERC research in Amazonia, which we lead and propose to pilot in India. The approach consists firstly of a targeted real-time observation program at a forest site at the Southern border of the Amazon humid forests, as part of the NERC BIO-RED consortium, co-led by Gloor and Phillips. Real-time observations of forest performance rely heavily on cameras overlooking the canopies, which measure canopy temperatures, measures of productivity performance and stress, and phenology. To characterize the climate forcing, we measure continuously climate and soil humidity. In order to understand observed patterns of tree performance responses to heat extremes, we measure separately traits of the site's dominant tree species related to tree hydraulics, as well as productivity. Secondly, as part of another ongoing NERC grant (TREMOR, led by DG) we are measuring tree hydraulic properties of dominant trees at 10 sites distributed across the Amazon. Knowledge of these characteristics across wide areas permits us to generalize mechanistic results measured with the in-situ monitoring approach. Finally, in both ongoing and past grants OP has developed a tropical forest plot-monitoring network in Amazonia, Africa, and Borneo (~1000 1-ha plots now), capable of tracking longer-term shifts in forest biomass, productivity, and composition. We propose here to work with leading Indian scientists to apply these approaches in this critical region. In large parts of tropical India heat waves have increased considerably in recent years with peak temperatures reaching up to 50C. Model projections suggest that up to 45% of Indian forests may be at risk of shifting to non-forest vegetation states, yet there are only very limited data to evaluate these projections. India lacks both a comprehensive observational system as at our Amazon site, and has relatively few permanent plots, and those that do exist are mostly not integrated into international forest monitoring networks. To address these challenges we have formed new connections with key experts in India covering the areas of forest ecology, eco-physiology, and climatology. Between them our new Indian collaborators are strongly linked to national and international forest conservation efforts, and lead most available forest plots. The scientific focus of this proposal, the extensive, biodiverse and potentially climate-sensitive evergreen forests in Western Ghats, is where the team's interests coincide geographically. We propose to jointly install a canopy-overlooking continuous forest heat and drought-response monitoring site, as in S Amazonia, close to existing plots in the Western Ghats. Together we plan a site-level traits campaign of dominant species and local integration of plot- and canopy-observation monitoring. We further propose to harmonize protocols of plot censuses and to include Indian plot data in the pan-tropical forest census database to support larger scale geographical analyses and syntheses. I-FOR will also aim to support mutual exchange of skills, focused in three steps. The first, in the Western Ghats, is a workshop dedicated to student and young scientist education in field skills and protocols. Secondly, we plan several visits of Indian colleagues to Leeds to support joint analyses and post-project planning. The final workshop, to be hold at one of the Indian scientist's home institution, will include wider participation to discuss implications of the results and to take practical steps toward ensuring these activities become long-term efforts.

Planned Impact

This proposal seeks to establish the foundation for long-term monitoring and quantification of the response of Indian forests to ongoing climate change. The importance of Indian forests as biodiversity hotspots, coupled with the considerable climatic threats they face means that the research we propose is of extremely high interest to scientists and to the wider public in India and globally. We will use the usual channels to disseminate our results in the scientific community. However, we expect and will take every effort to ensure that our findings will have substantial impact well beyond the scientific world.
1. Local Impacts in India. We believe that it is critically important for local institutions and communities to be fully engaged with the work we do. I-FOR will create direct opportunities to strengthen local research institutions, including the National Center for Biological Sciences, the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research and the Indian Institute of Technology. The field data generated by the project has the potential to generate several spin-off MSc and PhD projects that local students could undertake, and that would in turn further build long-term sustainability of the I-FOR concept. We have a track record in this, training high-quality in-country scientists and future research leaders. The AMAZONICA project, led by PI Gloor, for example, has generated data that forms the basis of several PhD studentships at the University of São Paulo. Similarly, the RAINFOR plot work, led by Co-I Phillips, has also resulted in a significant number of MSc and PhD projects for students across South America, several of whom now play key roles in national research institutions (e.g., IIAP in Peru, INPA in Brazil).
2. National Impacts in India. Our project partners in India are strategically placed to ensure our new collaboration has impact at a national policy level within India. Project partner Indu Murthy play a prominent role in the Long Term Observations (LTEO) Programme, established to understand the biophysical and anthropogenic drivers of ecosystem change and their effects on social-ecological responses. Project partner Murthy is also part of the Indian National Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), which specifically includes an assessment of impact, vulnerability and adaptation of Indian forest ecosystems. The Western Ghats forests, where our continuous monitoring sire will be located, is considered a particularly important ecosystem within the INCCA. Senior scientists and policymakers that are part of the INCCA will be invited to attend the project workshops, with a view to discussing the possibility of our methodology being formally incorporated within INCCA efforts, including potential funding of large-scale extension of our efforts to other sites and ecosystems within India.
3. UK Impacts. We are firmly committed to disseminating the results obtained by this project to the wider public, as we have done with our previous research. We are firm believers in communicating the excitement of our research to university and high school students in the UK. The University of Leeds already has a culture of research-based teaching and the work proposed in this project will be incorporated in appropriate lecture material for Level-2 and Level-3 courses on Ecosystem Processes and Tropical Rainforests, respectively. University Open Days regularly feature the work of our team and we will prepare and Open Day 'taster' sessions on Indian forests and their potential vulnerability to climatic change. We will also propose small sub-projects linked to different data components of the project (e.g. analysis of phenology images) to be led by undergraduate students through the research placement and dissertation modules, providing an opportunity for Leeds students to be directly engaged with the project.

Publications

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