Working with multiple collaborators in Congo and Gabon, we quantify forest structure and composition and monitor changes associated with human activities. We are interested in both basic and applied questions related to Central African forests. Why are they less species rich and higher in biomass than their Amazon counterparts? How do human activities (logging, hunting, industrial agriculture) affect forests? Are there management actions that can mitigate the impact of human activities on forests and their inhabitants? Can we detect changes in phenology, forest composition, or structure as a result of climate change?
We are answering these questions via several projects.
EFFECT OF LAND USE ON FOREST CARBON
Due to their lack of development, many Central African countries have low deforestation rates and high forest cover. In the last decade, however, these countries have built infrastructure and invited in foreign investors as steps towards growing and diversifying their economies. Extractive industries are now on the rise. The challenge is for Central African governments to avoid going the way of West Africa and Southeast Asia by regulating companies to reduce biodiversity loss and carbon emissions to a minimum. In Gabon, we link science to policy by asking questions such as: Can palm oil production in tropical forest be compatible with no-net emission pledges? And, where and how should agriculture take place to minimize environmental damage?
Combining field data and LiDAR, we worked with OLAM-Gabon and the Gabon Parks Agency to quantify the CO2 emissions from palm oil agriculture in Gabon to find that there is little opportunity for palm production to meet zero-net carbon emissions. We are currently assessing the carbon stocks in a proposed rubber concession.
FOREST DIVERSITY & BIOMASS: SANGHA PLOT NETWORK
In 2005, Connie Clark, David Harris (Edinburgh Botanical Gardens) and John Poulsen set up the Sangha Plot Network -- a system of 30 1-ha plots that straddle a gradient of selective logging and hunting. Since then, we have followed the survival and growth of more than 11,000 individual trees. Our preliminary results suggest that even 30 years after timber harvest, logged forest still contain significantly lower biomass than undisturbed forest. We are now evaluating the relationship between forest productivity and species diversity as well as linking rates of forest growth with selective logging disturbance.