Airborne forest surveys have recently helped to find some seriously tall trees in Northern Borneo. Until late last year, the tallest tree in the tropics was thought to be in Tawau hills, a spectacular 89.5m! In November 2016 another record breaker was been found along with 49 other trees, all over 90m. https://news.mongabay.com/2016/11/worlds-tallest-tropical-tree-discovered-along-with-nearly-50-other-record-breakers/
This grove of giant trees is to be found about 10km away from Danum Valley field centre, and that’s exactly where I am right now. I just got back to the field centre after visiting the new tallest tree this morning, here it is:
This Shorea Faguetiania was estimated at 94m by airborne survey but measured at 96m by a climber just yesterday. Obviously, there is a bit of uncertainty around the exact figure but whichever way you look at it this is a very impressive discovery and it brings a few questions to mind, such as: What is the limit to tree height? Does this limit vary from place to place? How will forests respond to change in their local climate?
I don’t have the answers, but there are giant redwood trees in California that are taller still (some reaching 110m I believe). Also, trees in Borneo can grow far taller than those in the Amazon. Interestingly, the record-breaking tree in question is situated between two steep slopes, so it probably benefits from quite substantial sheltering from the wind which may otherwise have toppled it long ago.
(by Benjamin Blonder)
Lab researcher Dr. Sam Moore is currently heading up a traits campaign in central Africa. The focal plots are in Lopé National Park in Gabon, and are especially interesting because forest elephants are common there, and play an important role in dispersal and growth dynamics of trees. However, elephants are not the only animal in these forests - check out what Sam's game camera picked up last week!
By Finella Blair - Data manager for the Human Modified Tropical Forest Progamme
In November 2016, as part of my role as data manager for the NERC Human Modified Tropical Forest Programme (HMTF), I had the chance to attend the Heart of Borneo conference in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and visit the SAFE project where the BALI and LOMBOK consortia researchers conduct most of their fieldwork.
One of my tasks as data manager is to ensure that the datasets (nearly 200 to date but still increasing) produced by over 50 researchers, are identified and documented so that at the end of the programme they are available for reference in future research. With so many people and datasets, the only way to track it all is with a database so the majority of my job is desk based. To manage data effectively it is important to understand the information you manage so I like to learn as much as possible about the research projects. The opportunity to get into the field and see them first hand is one not to be missed.
My first few days were spent at the conference, the first day hearing all about Heart of Borneo and the work of the Sabah Forestry Department. On the second day Greg Asner gave the Keynote speech, announcing that LIDAR imagery produced by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory had confirmed measurements to show that not only was the tallest tree in the tropics in Sabah, but also the top 50 tallest trees.
I then had a perfect introduction to the work of the LOMBOK researchers, as each gave a short presentation about their work, including my personal favourite, Rosie Drinkwater’s work on analysing leech blood meals as a potential method for identifying the presence of host species that are hard to survey by standard methods.
At the end of the conference I travelled to the SAFE project site. Over the week I stayed in camp, each day I followed a different team. While I don’t consider myself particularly unfit and I have done fieldwork in the tropics before, I was very impressed by the fitness levels and dedication of all the field researchers I followed!
The first day was spent with BALI’s Sam Robinson (photo right), Daffyd Elias (CEH) and their research assistant, taking soil cores, collecting hyphal growth bags and surveying canopy gaps.
On the second day I joined LOMBOK researchers (photo below) Ute Skibe and Julia Drewer as they worked with their PhD student from ITBC, University of Malaysia, Melissa Leduning. For Melissa, this was the final field work trip of her studies on the impact of land use change on soil greenhouse gas fluxes.
I later joined Proffessor Owen Lewis from the University of Oxford Zoology Department and his research assistant, Ross Gray, as they tested the design of a capture-mark-recapture experiment, using bait traps to investigate how moths and butterflies use riparian zones within oil palm landscapes.
The highlight of the trip for me was the day I spent with University of Kent MRes. student, Dave Seaman walking a 2.5km primate survey transect. We were at the start of the transect at dawn and when we emerged from the forest many hours later, I had not only seen and heard gibbons and langurs but had had the privilege to stand quietly and watch a young female wild orang utan barely 10 metres away staring calmly back at us. The temptation to click away with my camera was strong, but instead I just enjoyed the moment and it is one I shall never forget.
The rest of the week was filled with more field excursions and evening data sessions in the camp lab.
It was a very useful and interesting trip that has helped me understand so much better the information I am being sent and I appreciate just how much hard work is behind the spreadsheets I see back in the comfort of the Ecosystems lab!
Thank you to all of the BALI and LOMBOK teams who let me tag along and ask basic (but hopefully not stupid) questions! I will be chasing you for your metadata shortly!
A few of the many photos I took on the trip are below...
Viva phenology! A celebration in Oxford as Cecilia Chavana-Bryant's DPhil research reaches fruition.
For her doctoral research, Cecilia Chavana Bryant investigated the impacts of leaf age on the spectral and physiochemical traits of canopy trees in Amazonian rainforests, and analysed the implications for Earth Observation-derived indices. Using hard won tropical forest field data, combined with modelling and remote sensing, Cecilia conducted in-depth studies in tropical phenology - focusing on the timing of leaf flushing and abscission. We celebrate Cecilia's viva this week with a champagne reception in the department.
I've just got back from five weeks fieldwork in Malaysian Borneo. It was a successful trip and I got to see some of the worlds tallest trees - which are pretty amazing! This is particularly exciting for me because my work is all about the how trees grow so tall (from a mechanical point of view).
Danum Valley is a well established field centre near (via 72km dirt track) the town of Lahad Datu. There's herbarium, a restaurant and even a floodlit badminton court - which seems to be an essential part of life for the locals. I arrived late in the evening after a pretty exciting drive down the long dirt track in a shiny new 4x4. Unfortunately, my work requires me to carry a lot of equipment around with me and I had a few days just unpacking and sorting out big piles of tangled wires. Once it was all sorted, me and Azlin - my local research assistant - carried the wires and data loggers out into the forest to set up. This involves attaching small sensors to trees and climbing the biggest trees in the plot to attach wind sensors. We got all of this done in just over two weeks and left the equipment running.
Now that I am back in Oxford, Azlin is looking after the equipment for me. Every two weeks the data needs to be downloaded and the batteries changed - this means a 4km walk into the forest carrying five heavy batteries. The plan is to leave the equipment running until March 2017, when I will head back over to Danum and pack up. This will hopefully result in six months data on the local wind speeds and the movement of the trees. Using this data I will be able to test whether my model of wind damage works in the rain forest as well as it does in UK forests. I will also be able to better understand how the trees in Borneo come to be so tall!