The Center for Tropical Forest Science and Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO) is a unified, global network of forest research plots and scientists dedicated to the study of tropical and temperate forest function and diversity. The multi-institutional network comprises over 60 forest research plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, with a strong focus on tropical regions. CTFS-ForestGEO monitors the growth and survival of approximately 6 million trees and 10,000 species that occur in the forest plots. CTFS-ForestGEO also supports initiatives in the forest plots to monitor climate, carbon flux, vertebrates, insects, soil microorganisms, and much more (see our Science Initiatives).
CTFS-ForestGEO conducts long-term research on forests to:
- Increase scientific understanding of forest ecosystems
- Guide sustainable forest management and natural-resource policies
- Monitor the impacts of global climate change
- Build capacity in forest science
In the environmental sciences, CTFS-ForestGEO stands as one of the premier US-led international partnerships. It is also enabling the Smithsonian Institute to address knowledge gaps pointed out by other governmental and non-governmental research organizations. For example, CTFS-ForestGEO increases scientific understanding about the potential effects of climate change on ecosystems, which is a priority of the US Climate Change Science Program and highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II. Because of CTFS-ForestGEO’s extensive biological monitoring, unique databases, and the expertise of its partners, it promises to enhance society’s ability to evaluate and respond to the impacts of global climate change.
Because of its many partners and independent university-associated faculty, CTFS-ForestGEO leverages powerful intellectual forces. Over 200 scientists and policy analysts have published over 1,000 scientific articles based on CTFS-ForestGEO data, many in high-profile journals like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US), Science, and Nature, attesting to the relevance and high impact of the science and policy issues being studied across the network (Figure 1).
In 1980, ecologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute established the first forest plot on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. There, they pioneered long-term tree-census techniques that scientists replicated throughout the tropics, creating a network of tropical forest research plots that eventually became known as the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS). Prior to the establishment of Barro Colorado Island, scientists had never attempted to measure tropical forests so intensively and at such a broad scale.
The Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO) is an outgrowth and companion of the Center for Tropical Forest Science. It was established to fully represent the global-scale forest network, which now contains forest research plots in tropical and temperate climatic zones. Today, the intensity and scale of the CTFS-ForestGEO research network remains unprecedented in forest science. In addition to the tree censuses that track the growth and mortality of trees in every forest plot, CTFS-ForestGEO pursues several scientific initiatives to study carbon fluxes, the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and forest function.
ONE NETWORK. ONE METHODOLOGY.
The strength of CTFS-ForestGEO research is that the same methods are used to collect data across all of the forest plots in the network. Because each plot follows the same methodology, scientists can directly compare data collected from different forests around the world and detect patterns that would otherwise be impossible to recognize.
Each CTFS-ForestGEO plot is typically between 25 and 50 hectares. In each plot, all free-standing trees with a trunk diameter (at breast height) of at least 1 cm are tagged, measured, and identified to species. The trees are recensused about every 5 years (see our Protocols).
CTFS-ForestGEO is about scientific collaboration. It is an international network of hundreds of collaborators from more than 75 institutions worldwide (see our Partners). Partners have collaborated for decades to conduct world-class science. Each forest plot is led and managed by one or more partner institution. This includes plots in Asia that are coordinated through host-country institutions and the Smithsonian Institute. In addition, scientific education and training have always been major components of CTFS-ForestGEO. Over decades, the network has developed capacity-building expertise around the world, particularly in developing countries (Figures 2 & 3).
CTFS-ForestGEO also facilitates collaboration between the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and other Smithsonian research units, including the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the National Zoological Park’s Conservation and Research Center, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
Through CTFS-ForestGEO, the Smithsonian is also building and strengthening collaborations with other federal agencies of the United States, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service, US Department of Energy, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These collaborative efforts focus particularly on implementing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which is coordinated by the Group on Earth Observations, an intergovernmental organization that recently nominated CTFS-ForestGEO for an Early Achievement Award for its potential contribution to GEOSS.