ForestGEO: Understanding forest diversity and dynamics through a global observatory network

Stuart J. Davies, Iveren Abiem, Kamariah Abu Salim, Salomón Aguilar, David Allen, Alfonso Alonso, Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, Ana Andrade, Gabriel Arellano, Peter S. Ashton, Patrick J. Baker, Matthew E. Baker, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Yves Basset, Pulchérie Bissiengou, Stephanie Bohlman, Norman A. Bourg, Warren Y. Brockelman, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, David F.R.P. BurslemMin Cao, Dairon Cárdenas, Li Wan Chang, Chia Hao Chang-Yang, Kuo Jung Chao, Wei Chun Chao, Hazel Chapman, Yu Yun Chen, Ryan A. Chisholm, Chengjin Chu, George Chuyong, Keith Clay, Liza S. Comita, Richard Condit, Susan Cordell, Handanakere S. Dattaraja, Alexandre Adalardo de Oliveira, Jan den Ouden, Matteo Detto, Christopher Dick, Xiaojun Du, Álvaro Duque, Sisira Ediriweera, Erle C. Ellis, Nestor Laurier Engone Obiang, Shameema Esufali, Corneille E.N. Ewango, Edwino S. Fernando, Jonah Filip, Gunter A. Fischer, Robin Foster, Thomas Giambelluca, Christian Giardina, Gregory S. Gilbert, Erika Gonzalez-Akre, I. A.U.N. Gunatilleke, C. V.S. Gunatilleke, Zhanqing Hao, Billy C.H. Hau, Fangliang He, Hongwei Ni, Robert W. Howe, Stephen P. Hubbell, Andreas Huth, Faith Inman-Narahari, Akira Itoh, David Janík, Patrick A. Jansen, Mingxi Jiang, Daniel J. Johnson, F. Andrew Jones, Mamoru Kanzaki, David Kenfack, Somboon Kiratiprayoon, Kamil Král, Lauren Krizel, Suzanne Lao, Andrew J. Larson, Yide Li, Xiankun Li, Creighton M. Litton, Yu Liu, Shirong Liu, Shawn K.Y. Lum, Matthew S. Luskin, James A. Lutz, Hong Truong Luu, Keping Ma, Jean Remy Makana, Yadvinder Malhi, Adam Martin, Caly McCarthy, Sean M. McMahon, William J. McShea, Hervé Memiaghe, Xiangcheng Mi, David Mitre, Mohizah Mohamad, Logan Monks, Helene C. Muller-Landau, Paul M. Musili, Jonathan A. Myers, Anuttara Nathalang, Kang Min Ngo, Natalia Norden, Vojtech Novotny, Michael J. O'Brien, David Orwig, Rebecca Ostertag, Konstantinos Papathanassiou, Geoffrey G. Parker, Rolando Pérez, Ivette Perfecto, Richard P. Phillips, Nantachai Pongpattananurak, Hans Pretzsch, Haibo Ren, Glen Reynolds, Lillian J. Rodriguez, Sabrina E. Russo, Lawren Sack, Weiguo Sang, Jessica Shue, Anudeep Singh, Guo Zhang M. Song, Raman Sukumar, I. Fang Sun, Hebbalalu S. Suresh, Nathan G. Swenson, Sylvester Tan, Sean C. Thomas, Duncan Thomas, Jill Thompson, Benjamin L. Turner, Amanda Uowolo, María Uriarte, Renato Valencia, John Vandermeer, Alberto Vicentini, Marco Visser, Tomas Vrska, Xugao Wang, Xihua Wang, George D. Weiblen, Timothy J.S. Whitfeld, Amy Wolf, S. Joseph Wright, Han Xu, Tze Leong Yao, Sandra L. Yap, Wanhui Ye, Mingjian Yu, Minhua Zhang, Daoguang Zhu, Li Zhu, Jess K. Zimmerman, Daniel Zuleta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


ForestGEO is a network of scientists and long-term forest dynamics plots (FDPs) spanning the Earth's major forest types. ForestGEO's mission is to advance understanding of the diversity and dynamics of forests and to strengthen global capacity for forest science research. ForestGEO is unique among forest plot networks in its large-scale plot dimensions, censusing of all stems ≥1 cm in diameter, inclusion of tropical, temperate and boreal forests, and investigation of additional biotic (e.g., arthropods) and abiotic (e.g., soils) drivers, which together provide a holistic view of forest functioning. The 71 FDPs in 27 countries include approximately 7.33 million living trees and about 12,000 species, representing 20% of the world's known tree diversity. With >1300 published papers, ForestGEO researchers have made significant contributions in two fundamental areas: species coexistence and diversity, and ecosystem functioning. Specifically, defining the major biotic and abiotic controls on the distribution and coexistence of species and functional types and on variation in species' demography has led to improved understanding of how the multiple dimensions of forest diversity are structured across space and time and how this diversity relates to the processes controlling the role of forests in the Earth system. Nevertheless, knowledge gaps remain that impede our ability to predict how forest diversity and function will respond to climate change and other stressors. Meeting these global research challenges requires major advances in standardizing taxonomy of tropical species, resolving the main drivers of forest dynamics, and integrating plot-based ground and remote sensing observations to scale up estimates of forest diversity and function, coupled with improved predictive models. However, they cannot be met without greater financial commitment to sustain the long-term research of ForestGEO and other forest plot networks, greatly expanded scientific capacity across the world's forested nations, and increased collaboration and integration among research networks and disciplines addressing forest science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108907
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In addition to funding short-term grant projects, ForestGEO supports postdoctoral fellowships. These are independent research projects designed to answer a specific research question relevant to ForestGEO's science goals. Between two and five postdoctoral fellows per year conduct research on a variety of topics related to advancing the science of forest structure and dynamics, including plant-water relations and forest function, tree mortality, and above-ground biomass dynamics.

Funding Information:
We recently estimated that there are currently in excess of 11,000 forest plots currently maintained around the tropics. These plots are coordinated through networks that span gradients in geography, elevation, land-use history, and scientific focus. No plot network individually provides the spatial intensity and extent required for global inferences about the structure, functioning and diversity of forests. It is therefore essential that the ground-based networks work together to address the major challenges outlined in Section 8 . The US NSF has recently awarded ForestGEO and partner networks with a grant to help advance a multi-network collaboration through the AccelNet Program . The opportunity exists to rapidly advance understanding of tropical (and temperate) forest science through network-network collaboration.

Funding Information:
ForestGEO acknowledges the incredible contributions of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of highly skilled and committed field and data technicians without whom the network of FDPs would not have been possible. We also acknowledge many local, regional and national agencies and institutions in each of the countries where ForestGEO works for their support in many aspects of the program, including protecting the valuable forests, making financial contributions, permitting researchers to access the forests to conduct these studies, and providing critical logistical support to enable the ambitious FDPs to be realized. ForestGEO acknowledges the role of the many students who have helped maintain the plots and provide vitality to the program. We acknowledge the important role of Liz Losos, first Director of CTFS/ForestGEO, Ira Rubinoff, Biff Bermingham and Matthew Larsen, past directors of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Bob Cook, past Director of the Arnold Arboretum, Lissy Coley, Jerome Chave and Cristi?n Samper, ForestGEO external advisory committee members, and Scott Miller, Kirk Johnson, Steve Monfort, Tuck Hines and Will Pitt, internal Smithsonian advisors. Financial support for the network has been received from the US National Science Foundation, the Frank H. Levinson Family Foundation, HSBC Climate Partnership, the Bromley Charitable Trust, the Stapper family, John Swire & Sons Inc., the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, the MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Philecology Trust, the John Merck Fund, Jacqueline B. Mars, Jennifer and Greg Johnson, Christopher Davidson and Sharon Cristoph, the National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan, and the Smithsonian Institution. Detailed site-specific acknowledgements are included as Supplementary Materials.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Capacity strengthening
  • Demography
  • Forest plots
  • Network science
  • Species diversity
  • Tree growth and mortality
  • Tropical forests


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