The core aim of the programme is to significantly improve our understanding of the links between biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles in tropical forests and to help develop approaches that explore the application of these insights in contrasting locations elsewhere.
The programme has five main goals:
- Improve our understanding of the role of biodiversity in major forest biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) through the integration of experimental and observational data with models linked with up-scaling studies to explore the potential regional impacts of environmental change.
- Explore the spatial correlations between ecosystem function in terms of biogeochemical cycles and the distribution of species of conservation concern.
- Critically assess the potential of forest management and policy options (eg REDD+) to protect both key ecosystem functions (biogeochemical cycles) and biodiversity.
- Develop and test new technological capability for sustainable long-term observations of biogeochemical cycling that may be deployed as a legacy of the programme across a range of tropical environments.
- Develop approaches that apply the insights gained through goals 1-4 to contrasting tropical locations.
In Malaysia, goals 1-4 will be addressed as part of a detailed programme of observations and measurements using the SAFE research platform in Sabah, Malaysia. This platform consists of a gradient in forest modification – old growth forest, logged forest and intensive agriculture (oil palm) with experimental forest fragments and riparian forest strips of various sizes created within a landscape that has been converted from logged forest into oil palm plantations.
It includes, therefore, an intact forest ecosystem, fragmented and degraded forest, and derived land-uses. This is important because many tropical forest areas are now forest-agriculture landscapes, and recent work, including that supported by NERC, has shown how important it is to understand the changes in biogeochemical cycles caused by forest modification.
The platform already has significant non-NERC investment (c £7•5m) that supports the core programme of observations (£6m) and some associated projects (£1•5m). This includes data and infrastructure that would be relevant to the proposed action, including above ground plant census and biomass data, forest carbon data, a flux tower for measuring biosphere-atmosphere gas exchange, and instrumentation measuring nutrients and water (eg stream sensors measuring water quality and flow).
In Brazil, the goals 1-4 will be addressed by the Ecofor project, focusing on the degraded and recovering forests. The project is lead by Lancaster University in the UK and the State University of Campinas in Brazil and operates with the budget of £3.6 million. The researchers believe that the environmental impact of the forest degradation may have been underestimated and work is urgently needed to get a clearer picture of how this will affect the future.
The research will take place simultaneously in the Amazon and the Atlantic forest and will build upon previous projects – Biota in the Atlantic forest and RAS (Rede Amazonia Sustentavel) in the Amazon.