What is ForestGEO?


ForestGEO, the Smithsonian Institution’s Forest Global Earth Observatories, had its origins in 1980 with the establishment of a 50-hectare plot on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island. It was designed to understand why tropical rainforests are so biologically diverse, and why so many of the species are rare.

ForestGEO Today ForestGEO has 51 long-term forest study sites in 22 countries. The unrivalled network attracts biologists from around the world who use ForestGEO’s vast yet integrated global database to answer fundamental questions about forest ecology and ecosystem services.

ForestGEO uses the largest, systematically studied plots in forest ecology. By locating, identifying, and measuring growth of every individual tree in the plots, scientists obtain vital statistics on the birth, growth and death of forest trees worldwide. ForestGEO’s regular censuses of adult trees, saplings and seedlings give unique time-sequenced information on how they respond to natural and man-made environmental changes.

ForestGEO is at the frontier of ecosystem science. ForestGEO retains their original mission to understand biodiversity but now offers platforms for broader scientific inquiry:

How do forests store water and control runoff?

How much carbon do forests store and how will they respond to rising atmospheric CO2?

How are plants in the forest pollinated and their seeds dispersed?

What is the value of all these ecosystem services?

ForestGEO data allow researchers to track the impact of regional disturbance events, global climate events such as El Niño, and long-term climate change on forest ecosystems. The sites contain an astonishing diversity of species, allowing scientists to examine the dynamics of entire populations of trees and animals, and their interactions. The findings can inform policy decisions for the sustainable management of forests and their resources.

ForestGEO’s data also serve as an early warning system for changes in global ecosystems as a result of global climate change and other factors. Scientists use the same protocols at all sites, allowing the network to produce a unified database for comparisons of forest dynamics and diversity at a global scale.

In a world of climate change, exploding human population, rising atmospheric carbon, and dramatic shifts in land use, ForestGEO is in a special position to answer pressing questions of our times.

Tropical Forests A net source carbon

Learn More

Asner Wright Hall Muller Winter Potvin
Turner Detto Hubell Rubinoff Davies