Tag Archives: STEED Project

Finding forest plots 2 decades on…..

Ever wondered how hard it is to find your way back to the same point in a tropical forest after 20 years?  The STEED/Carnegie project team does……. and it isn’t easy!

In 1995/96 the EU-funded INDFORSUS project (Developing ground and remotely sensed indicators of the sutainability of tropical forest exploitation systems) established 52 plots in logged and unlogged forest areas around Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia (see map below). In each of these 0.1ha plots all trees, saplings and seedlings were measured and tagged, creating a valuable baseline dataset in disturbed and pristine Dipterocarp dominated forests.

Working on the ground in Dipteraocarp forests around Danum Valley.

Working on the ground in Dipteraocarp forests around Danum Valley.

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Location of the original INDFORSUS forest plots in logged and unlogged forests at Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia. Source: Foody & Cutler (2003): doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2699.2003.00887.x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research initially funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and now by NERC through the STEED project, is re-surveying these plots to establish change in forest biomass and tree species diversity over the last 20 years, as well as the impacts of the current ENSO event.  In particular, we hope to address questions relating to the resilience of these forests to logging, disturbance and environmental / climate change.

However, the forest has changed a lot in the last 20 years: logging roads, skid trails, and landslides have all had an impact upon moving about the forest.  What was once easy by 4×4 now becomes a long hike or even helicopter ride to access different parts of the study area.

A helicopter from SabahAir being skillfully piloted into a tight spot to drop off supplies for the STEED field team.

A helicopter from SabahAir being skillfully piloted into a tight spot to drop off supplies for the STEED field team.

Not only that, once you get there you have to find the plots.  Although tagged, many ‘permanent’ markers on the trees and marking the centre of the plot have vanished – eroded, decomposed or even absorbed into the bark of the tree!  Many plots were originally located by walking on a bearing for a set distance through the forest from a GPS point fixed in a clearing – sometimes many 100s meters away. Locating the plots some 20 years later has been a major exercise in itself.

 

Luckily though, we have the fantastic SEARRP Research Assistants on hand to help!  Working with the most basic of maps, the RAs are skilled at working in the forests around Danum Valley.  By walking on a fixed bearing they have found some plots, but more often have done so by walking to the general area and then recognizing key species that were recorded in the original survey: by referring then to plot maps of trees that were growing 20 years ago it has been possible to reestablish the location of almost all the original plots.

Some of the field team of SEARRP Research Assistants debating the location of the INDFORSUS forest plots.

Some of the field team of SEARRP Research Assistants debating the location of the INDFORSUS forest plots.  How helpful is the map??

The fieldwork is led by Dr Christopher Philipson (University of Dundee & ETH Zurich) and almost all plots have now been revisited.  Currently the team are undertaking a leaf trait campaign looking at the response of trees to the recent drought….but more on that later.

 

 

 

 

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Meet the STEED project

Background:  Globally, almost half of all remaining tropical forest is allocated for timber production, illustrating the enormous economic asset that these forests represent to many nations. Additionally though, these forests provide important societal and ecosystem services, from being sources of food through to climate change mitigation and generating income from carbon offset schemes. Critically though, with the ever increasing exploitation of primary tropical forests, the economic and societal importance of previously logged and degraded forests has become much greater in recent years. However, it’s fair to say we know much less about logged and disturbed forests than primary forests.  In particular, the resilience of these forests i.e. their capacity to respond to short-term perturbations (e.g. ENSO-induced drought) by resisting damage and recovering quickly, is poorly understood. If we are to manage tropical forests, both in terms of their initial exploitation and subsequent regeneration, we need to better understand how these systems respond to environmental and climate change at local to regional scales. Only then can we develop policies and practice that explicitly take into account drought and climate impacts and can both protect and maximise economic and societal benefits from these fragile ecosystems.

Dipterocarp forest canopy at Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia

Dipterocarp forest canopy at Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia

The Project: To provide the evidence from which policy makers and practitioners can better plan forest management strategies the NERC-funded STEED project (Spatio-TEmporal Dynamics of Forest Response to ENSO Drought) is examining the impact of the current ENSO drought conditions on logged forests in Borneo, SE Asia, in conjunction with longer term research on forest response to disturbance. We’re doing this using a combination of ground-based and satellite remote sensing methods.  This includes drone-based assessments of canopy structure and liana growth, high-spatial resolution satellite images detecting tree mortality and regional assessment of drought response using Sentinel-2 and NOAA AVHRR satellite imagery.  All of this is backed-up with in situ measurement of forest response at a network of forest plots, established over 20 years ago and re-measured just prior to the current ENSO-drought.

False colour composite SPOT HRV satellite image of the Danum Valley area. Note the dark area towards the left/middle if the image - this is an area of seedlings mortality caused by the last big ENSO event in 1996.

False colour composite SPOT HRV satellite image of the Danum Valley area. Note the dark area towards the right/middle of the image – this is an area of seedling mortality caused by the last big ENSO event in 1996.

Our Partners: The project will wrap-up in November 2017 with a workshop in Malaysia, but could not be carried out without the generous support of our current funders (NERC), previous funding from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and the fantastic support of our project partners: South East Asian Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP), Permian Global and Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)

The Team:

Dr Mark Cutler (University of Dundee) and Dr Christopher Philipson (University of Dundee & ETH Zurich)

Professor David Burslem (University of Aberdeen)

Dr Doreen Boyd, Dr Geertje van der Heidjen & Professor Giles Foody (University of Nottingham)

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