Belizean rainforest diversity and dynamics

Dr. Samuel Bridgewater (S.Bridgewater@nhm.ac.uk) and Dr. Toby Pennington (University of Edinburgh, School of Biological Sciences).

Project Description
In 1992, 30 permanent sample forestry plots were established across Belize as part of an ODA (DfID)-funded Forest Planning and Management Project. The focus of the project was to better understand the biodiversity and dynamics of Belizean rain forests with a view to improving regional timber management. These plots have never been re-censused. Ten of these plots were seriously impacted by Hurricane Iris in 2001. Although the network of plots was precisely measured in the first census, the original taxonomy of the work was not accurate, and needs to be revised. As a pilot study to this initiative Dr. Bridgewater re-visited four of the BFPN plots in 2004, and found them to be in good condition with the plot markers in place. A second census of a single hectare plot revealed the initial census to be accurate in terms of original measurements and with the trees reliably tagged, although with ca. 20% of the trees misidentified. The taxonomic inaccuracy can easily be rectified using the NHM’s collections.

The Belizean Forest Plot Network (BFPN) provides a perfect opportunity for a PhD student to conduct research on the long-term dynamics of one of Central America’s largest remaining tracts of tropical forest. The network provides a ready-made landscape-scale ‘natural experiment’ to investigate the impact of hurricane disturbance on a rainforest ecosystem. The project is of global scientific relevance as concerns grow about how natural systems will be affected by a changing global climate.

Primary PhD research question:
How do tropical forests respond to hurricane disturbance?

Secondary PhD research theme:
To what extent are regional patterns of ß-diversity of tropical trees defined by exposure to hurricane disturbance?