ECOFOR (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in Degraded and Recovering Amazonian and Atlantic Forests) aims to investigate the overall functioning of human-modified tropical forests in both the Amazon and in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Whilst the effects of deforestation, i.e. the complete removal of the forest cover, havebeen the focus of much scientific effort to date, relatively little attention has been paid to degraded and regenerating forests. These are known as human-modified forests and encompass both forests that have never been completely felled, but have experienced some level of human-driven disturbance such as selective logging or wildfires, as well as forests growing on previously cleared areas.To fill in this gap in our knowledge, ECOFOR was developed, based on a partnership between scientists from Brazil and the UK. The project focuses on six main areas,which aim to:
- Develop a better understand of the impacts of human modification on ecosystem functioning, with a special focus on carbon cycling.
- Link ecosystem functions and the biological traits of trees
- Understand the functional consequences of changes in the animal communities, concentrating efforts on bird communities
- Investigate how general our findings are and if they can be applied to human-modified tropical forests located elsewhere
- Identify the consequences of human-modification for biodiversity at larger scales
- Close the science-policy knowledge gap of the impacts of human modifications in tropical forests
To meet these objectives, a series of monitoring sites has been set up in both the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest. These sites range from undisturbed forests to logged, logged-and-burned and secondary forests.Researchers are currently monitoring the carbon cycling of these sites, collecting data on tree growth, roots and wood production, and even on the respiration of the microbial community in the soil. They are also collecting data on leaf traits of the trees such as photosynthesis rates, leaf venation and leaf toughness.
After all these data are collected, the researchers will use computer modelling to extrapolate ECOFOR’s findings, in an attempt to predict what could happen to the functioning of human-modified tropical forests in a future where the climate will be hotter and drier.These results will help inform decision-makers about how land-use changes can affect the functioning of tropical forests and the services they provide.
ECOFOR is a joint project between Brazil and the UK, led by Prof. Carlos Joly from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and Dr Jos Barlow from the Lancaster University, with financial support from the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP) and the National Environment Research Council (NERC).
ECOFOR also relies on the expertise of researchers from other institutions. These include the University of São Paulo, Embrapa, Goeldi Museum and LBAon the Brazilian side and the Universities of Oxford, Leeds, Edinburgh and Imperial College London on the British side. This project also builds upon the past collaborative work of BIOTA Functional Gradient, GEM, RAINFOR, and Rede Amazônia Sustentável (RAS), and is one of three consortia funded by NERC’s human-modified tropical forest programme.