February 2001

From University of Toronto

Scientists map biological changes in Earth's tropical forests

International tropical forest researchers at the Centre for Tropical Forest Sciences (CTFS) including Sean Thomas, forestry professor at the University of Toronto, have established a world network of tropical forest plots to map changes in the biology of one-tenth of the Earth's rainforest tree species- one centimetre at a time.

"We are now able to measure biological changes by using the same model whether they are occurring in Africa, Southeast Asia or in the Amazon," says Thomas, one of the program's research associates. For the past 20 years, international researchers have identified and tagged approximately three million trees and 6,500 species as small as one centimetre wide and monitored their rate of growth, change and decline in parts of Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

"Data from these forest plots can be used to monitor the effects of pollution on tropical forests, measure the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by rainforests and provide a reference for scientists in search of particular medicinal plants," Thomas says. Dozens of new tree species have also been discovered through the detailed process of identifying almost every plant species on the plots.

Thomas started collaborating with CTFS in 1989 when he travelled to Southeast Asia to study tree species at the Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia. Working with CTFS/Harvard University and the Japanese National Institute of Environmental Studies, Thomas and other researchers identified more than 800 tree species on the site. He is currently examining the growth and mortality rates of African mahogany trees on a site in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Jean-Remy Makana, a U of T PhD research assistant.

The report was published in the Jan. 26 issue of Science. Visit http://www.ctfs.si.edu for more information on the CFTS forest plots program. CONTACT: Professor Sean Thomas, Department of Forestry, 416-978-1044, sc.thomas@utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T Public Affairs, 416-978-0260, sue.toye@utoronto.ca.












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