Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatories
OF THE FIRST
FIRST PLOT WAS
FOUNDED IN 1980
The resulting knowledge base, accumulated over 30 years, reveals the origins of biological diversity, elucidates the role of forests in the global carbon cycle and provides policy makers with new knowledge about the implications of environmental change. Scientific information from the network contributes to innovative, profitable strategies for land use, reforestation and restoration of some of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.
This research platform, coordinated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, has recently inspired a proposal for a similar system of ocean habitat comparisons. As one of the premier U.S.-led international partnerships for ecological research, this long-term and large-scale approach has led to unique endeavors that promise to enhance society’s ability to evaluate and respond to environmental change.
In 1980 ecologists Robin Foster and Stephen Hubbell created a 50-hectare (110 acre) plot at the Smithsonian’s research station on Barro Colorado Island in Panama with the intention of obtaining a representative sample of all of the species in this lowland tropical forest.
They mapped, identified and measured every stem at least 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) in diameter. Their final tally was 299 species and 208,400 trees. Since then, censuses have been conducted every five years (seven times), resulting in a comprehensive set of statistics on birth (recruitment), growth and death of each species.
Their project steadily grew into a global network of plots coordinated by the Smithsonian’s Center for Tropical Forest Science, CTFS. By 1986, an Asian plot at Pasoh in Malaysia had been inaugurated through an association with Peter Ashton at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Further plots were installed at Mudumalai in India In 1987 and in Lambir, Malaysia in 1991. By 1994, a plot in the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo added the African tropics to the network.
Today, there are 23 plots in Asia, nine in Latin America, eight in North America, four in Africa, three in Oceania and one in Europe. To acknowledge the Smithsonian’s role as coordinator, the plot system is known as the Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory System, or SIGEO.
Each plot, typically 25 or 50 hectares, has a common structure. Data is collected according to a standard protocol to make direct comparisons between forests possible and detect patterns that would otherwise be impossible to recognize. Today the scale and intensity of the CTFS research program remain unprecedented in forest science.
The Center for Tropical Forest Science and each of its partner institutions depend on the financial and logistical support of their home institutions as well as generous donations from dozens of foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals.
Here we acknowledge the generous support of a few organizations that have contributed major support to the operations of the entire CTFS network:
|• The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
• F. H. Levinson Fund
|• The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
• National Institute of Environmental Studies (Japan)
|• Smithsonian Institution
• U.S. National Science Foundation
• John Swire & Sons Ltd.