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Diverse tropical forests defy metabolic ecology models

pical forest ecologists (Robin Foster, now at the Chicago Field Museum and Steve Hubbell at the University of Georgia and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, STRI) decided that the way to understanding was to measure and map every single tree in an area of lowland tropical forest on Panama'TMs Barro Colorado Island. Tree abundance, distribution, growth and mortality data from repeated five-year censuses of this site proved so useful to ecologists and foresters alike that seventeen other tropical forests around the world adopted the same methodology. Now the consortium of universities and research organizations managing forest plots in South America, Africa, India and Asia: the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS), is headquartered in Panama at STRI. And the race is on to find the basic principles governing tropical forest community composition and structure based on data from three million trees.

Metabolic ecology

At a U.S. National Science Foundation supported workshop, CTFS participants examined data from across the forest plot system and discussed possible multi-site comparisons. "A couple of the key papers on metabolic ecology had just come out and were generating a lot of excitement '" as well as considerable skepticism. And we thought, hey, we have an unprecedented opportunity to test these predictions, and to see whether these patterns are really similar across all these forests," remembers Muller-Landau. "If the proposed general rules truly applied, they would be tremendously useful - for example, they would help us predict how much above ground carbon is stored in tropical forests. There are some general similarities among sites in the tree size distributions, so it seemed plausible that there might be a general underlying explanation."

"Specifically, metabolic energy proposes a rule that total tree abundances scale as the -2 power of diameter, and we were hopeful that it would apply. But we tested that prediction on da
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Source:Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


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