tropical ecology

Out of the wild

My year started off with a field trip to the peat swamp forests of Borneo. The aim was to wrap up data collection for my PhD project looking at drivers, both environmental and human-made, of structural patterns in these little-studied forests. Supported by a fantastic team of three local research assistants, I established a series of plots and collected leaf samples of most abundant species for trait analyses.

Tropical peat swamp forests grow, as the name suggests, on peat layers that can extend to more than 10 m depth forming so-called ‘peat domes’. During their formation over thousands of years peat domes become purely ombrotrophic (rain-fed) and develop convex water tables that remain close or above the surface. Gradients in fertility and possibly waterlogging along peat domes are thought to lead to the observed succession of different forest communities. Tropical peatlands are major global carbon stores and are bound to play a key role in climate change mitigation.

Extreme conditions for the trees are matched by extreme conditions and many challenges for researchers: deep water, soft grounds full of hollows, mosquitoes without an end. But it all brightens up when an orange forest fellow makes an appearance.