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South East Asia Rainforest Res Prog

South East Asia Rainforest Res Prog

4 Projects, page 1 of 1
  • Funder: UK Research and Innovation Project Code: NE/M007898/1
    Funder Contribution: 51,385 GBP

    The requirement to feed a rapidly increasingly human population whilst maintaining ecosystem services and reducing biodiversity losses has led to an urgent need to design more sustainable agricultural landscapes. This is particularly relevant in SE Asia where oil palm plantations are replacing hyper-diverse tropical rainforest. Current policies for the sustainable cultivation of oil palm (an important source of edible vegetable oil) require the retention of rainforest fragments within plantations. However, the assumption that these forest fragments can continue to support high biodiversity, maintain their viability, and regenerate over time has not previously been tested. Thus one of the primary criteria for sustainability is essentially untested, and forms the basis of this proposal. SE Asian rainforests are unique in being dominated by Dipterocarpaceae trees which reproduce irregularly (at intervals from 1 to many years) but synchronously in mass fruiting events. One of these unpredictable mass fruiting events has recently been initiated on Borneo, and provides a rare opportunity to study dipterocarp reproduction in rainforest fragments. Dipterocarp trees are a vital component of rainforest ecosystems in SE Asia, and hence any changes that affect dipterocarps are likely to have considerable knock-on impacts for rainforest biodiversity. Our recent data show an absence of dipterocarp seedlings in small forest fragments even when mature dipterocarps are present, raising a serious concern of reproductive failure of dipterocarps in fragments. The recently-initiated mass fruiting event provides us with an opportunity to explore potential mechanisms leading to reproductive failure and/or recruitment failure in forest remnants. The main objective of this project is to: (1) examine how forest fragmentation affects dipterocarp reproduction, (2) relate reproductive rates to biotic and abiotic changes arising from forest fragmentation (altered microclimates, habitat quality, predation), and (3) assess whether dipterocarp species are equally sensitive to impacts of forest fragmentation. The proposed work will provide the first investigation of the long-term viability of forest remnants in tropical agricultural landscapes. The project will address fundamental questions about reproduction in dipterocarp trees under altered abiotic and biotic conditions, as well as producing results of considerable practical value for policy makers. It will form the basis for new research in future focussed on understanding the impacts of habitat degradation and fragmentation on biodiversity, and contribute to scientific evidence to inform the debate on developing effective conservation and sustainability strategies.

  • Funder: UK Research and Innovation Project Code: NE/T006560/1
    Funder Contribution: 45,740 GBP

    Southeast Asian tropical forests have been subjected to recent intense pressure due to selective logging and widespread clearance for Oil Palm cultivation. Consequently there is an emerging interest in restoring degraded forests using either natural regeneration or active restoration treatments. However, the reproductive biology of Southeast Asian tropical forest trees limits research on the effectiveness of these approaches, because most large canopy trees only flower and fruit very rarely. These sporadic mass reproductive events are responsible for establishing new cohorts of seedlings that grow up to become the next generation of adult canopy trees, and it is critical to discover whether the success of these episodic attempts at regeneration is as great in forests that have been degraded by logging as they are in primary forests, and whether the processes leading to seedling recruitment are restored effectively in forests where treatments such as tree planting and climber cutting have been applied. However, because these regeneration events occur so infrequently and unpredictably it is very difficult to incorporate them into the conventional planning cycle for research, despite the critical importance of the events that occur early in the life cycle of trees to future forests. In this project we will rapidly establish sampling sites in Sabah, Malaysia, where we know that a mass flowering of canopy trees was initiated in May 2019, for the first time since 2010. We aim to compare the amount and diversity of fruits and seedlings produced during this masting event in primary (undisturbed, unlogged) forests, and in adjacent forests that have been logged and either left to regenerate naturally or restored by planting tree seedlings and maintaining them for five years by climber cutting. Because the restoration of logged forests began more than 20 years ago, the original cohort of planted seedlings are now, in some cases, large canopy trees that may contribute seeds and seedlings for the first time during the reproductive event this year. We will also measure the expression of traits that determine how plants capture and use resources such as light and nutrients for the most common species that occur in each of the three types of forest, which will determine whether the community of seedlings that establish in the restored forests functions in a more similar way to that in the undisturbed primary forest than in the forests left to regenerate naturally after logging. A key focus on this study will be on species of the dominant family of canopy and emergent trees, the Dipterocarpaceae, which are targeted for logging. Logged forests possess a lower density of large reproductively mature dipterocarp individuals, and a key aim of restoration is to re-establish the dominance and diversity of this family by planting and maintaining dipterocarp seedlings. Dipterocarps possess an unusual trait for the tree flora of tropical forests, which is that they form mutualistic associations with root-colonising ectomycorrhizal fungi (ECM), whereas most other species in the forest form a different type of root association with arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM). Our recent research has shown that ECM seedlings benefit from proximity to a high density of ECM adults, possibly because they exchange resources through a common below-ground fungal network and because ECM species suppress root pathogens. In contrast, AM seedlings have lower survival when located close to a high density of adults of the same species. A final aim of our project is to test whether the beneficial effects of high adult density for ECM species is reduced in logged forests where the density of ECM adults is much lower, and whether these effects are offset by restoration. This research will therefore contribute results that are vital to understanding how Southeast Asian forests regenerate during masting events, and whether the negative effects of logging can be mitigated by restoration.

  • Funder: UK Research and Innovation Project Code: NE/R009597/1
    Funder Contribution: 98,133 GBP

    Ecosystems are under threat worldwide - natural habitats are being lost and the remaining areas are degraded and fragmented. Developing countries in the tropics have some of the world's highest concentrations of endemic species, but very high rates of land-use change. Climate change is already affecting tropical species, and there is particular concern about whether they will be able to shift from areas that become too hot or dry, across fragmented landscapes, to reach refuges in montane regions. If land-use change and forest degradation continue too intensively in these countries, species and ecosystem functions will be lost, leading to detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of local people dependent on these lands. Habitats across a landscape can be thought of as an "ecological network", and these networks need to have sufficient habitat area, quality and connectivity to be functional. Robust ecological networks require stronger protection of existing habitat and restoration of degraded forest. Policy makers and nature conservation practitioners are increasingly thinking about biodiversity conservation at landscape scales, but continuing land-use change leads to difficult decisions about how to prioritise habitat preservation and restoration, and technologies are lacking to allow practitioners to be able to do this. There is huge potential for landscape prioritisation to be informed by NERC-funded research. We have developed a model based on ecological understanding of range shifts, which quantifies how different elements of a habitat network contribute to long-distance connectivity. This model can also identify the best habitat to preserve, or locations to target for restoration. We have also quantified biodiversity in fragmented tropical forest habitats, and shown how land-use change affects forest species, in particular the extent to which they can persist in selectively logged forest, small forest fragments, extensive plantations and intensive plantations. This knowledge can now be used innovatively with new technologies and data, particularly remotely sensed data, to enable large-scale sustainable land-use planning for tropical developing countries under climate change. This project will develop an online spatial decision support tool for planning robust and resilient habitat networks under climate change. Our tool will be co-created and tested with partners in Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia, locations where landscape planning is urgently required to support the livelihoods of local communities and other stakeholders dependent on building resilient landscapes under environmental change . Our partner organisations are responsible for sustainable forest planning and biodiversity protection in their countries, balancing biodiversity and socio-economic needs of landscapes. Our partners have proposed specific case studies that exemplify the most pressing choices and alternative scenarios they face - our new tool will be applied with their existing data to highlight priorities for action. Priorities will be based on connectivity benefits for biodiversity, weighted by economic costs and stakeholder preferences. The most tangible and long-lasting output of this project will be the freely available web interface to our tool, backed by a high-performance computing cluster in Liverpool that will perform the analyses. This interface makes the tool globally accessible, and is vital for future users in developing countries, because computing power limitations would preclude them running a desktop version. The project will also provide face-to-face training to relevant stakeholders in our partner countries, and online tutorial materials tailored to the needs of developing countries. Hence we will build capacity for our tool to be used as part of multidisciplinary projects addressing development challenges in future, to find efficient solutions where vital networks of natural habitat coexist with the needs of local stakeholders.

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  • Funder: UK Research and Innovation Project Code: NE/T005092/1
    Funder Contribution: 98,558 GBP

    Regenerating degraded tropical forests is a key approach for mitigating future climate change and restoring essential ecosystem services, including water cycling and biodiversity conservation. The Bonn Challenge sets two key targets: to restore 150 million hectares of degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, with the aim of re-instating ecological integrity alongside human well-being into degraded areas based on the forest and landscape restoration approach. Currently, the policy environment is conducive to restoration as countries have made significant commitments to restoring their forests in order to help meet their obligations under the Paris climate change agreement and the Bonn Challenge directly. There is significant opportunity for restoring natural forests in tropical Southeast Asia; whilst they have been extensively degraded by logging, fragmentation and industrial Oil Palm cultivation, mature natural forests in SEA have a capacity to store and cycle the largest quantities of above-ground carbon per unit area in the world (Banin et al. 2014; Sullivan et al. 2016), and therefore reinstating natural forests offers substantial ecosystem service benefits if long-term restoration can be achieved (Lewis et al. 2019). However, devising successful forest restoration strategies for tropical forests involves careful, evidence-based decision-making, at various spatial scales and working with multiple stake-holders. To ensure the long-term success of restoration efforts, our project initiates a new multidisciplinary network focussing on regeneration of Southeast Asian (SEA) logged and degraded forests. Our research will be delivered through two work packages. In work package 1, project partners will provide standardised data unavailable in the literature to deliver a new published synthesis of site-level evidence providing insights into post-restoration ecological processes (carbon accumulation and community dynamics). This work will provide a basis for a sustained long-term restoration experiment network. In work package 2, we host an interdisciplinary workshop which will use the Heart of Borneo project area as a transboundary case study to (i) identify the barriers, constraints and opportunities for forest landscape restoration and (ii) develop an agenda of research and data needs for spatial prioritization for landscape-level restoration These activities will be delivered through interactive engagement between academic and practitioner stakeholders, including key policy-makers, at a workshop in Malaysia, which will contribute to our broader, long-term goal of linking ecological and social science research to policy and practice in restoration decision-making. The proposed FOR-RESTOR project will be a new collaboration between the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Universities of Aberdeen, Exeter, Oxford and RSPB in the UK and international partners from Australia, Italy, Sweden, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore. The team uniquely brings together expertise in carbon cycling, functional ecology, biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships, conservation genetics, genetic resources and seed systems, ecological restoration, forest landscape restoration and forest science-policy and science-practice interfaces.

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