Long-term research project with Utrecht University

Long-term research project with Utrecht University

Stichting Adopteer Regenwoud’s research project is entering an exciting new phase thanks to a long-term collaboration with Utrecht University. The foundation was ready for a new step to professionalize the research project and Utrecht University was looking for a stable and reliable partner in Central America to conduct solid research in the rainforest. So for both parties this is a wonderful collaboration! Because of this we will make a big step in professionalizing our current research on biodiversity in our reserve. Together with the visiting students we will focus on scientific research in which the diversity and development of nature in our reserve, with an emphasis on flora, is central.

From fauna to flora

In recent years, we have been able to host and supervise hundreds of students and volunteers from different educational levels and institutes. This mix of MBO, HBO and WO interns provides a varied learning environment for all participants and will continue to be a core value of our research project. Together we have learned a lot about the biodiversity in our reserve, observed rare and endangered species and even found undescribed species. In doing so, we have been especially looking for animals because they are relatively easy to name. Now we will work on plant diversity, and PhD students, professors and others specialists will also contribute to the knowledge of our reserve.

Influence of land use

The background of the study has everything to do with the genesis of our beautiful reserve. Man has had a great influence on nature in our project area for centuries. Deforestation, agriculture/livestock but also rainforest regeneration have created a mosaic of different habitats. So the rainforest we protect within the boundaries of the reserve is not all one and the same nature. For example, parts of the reserve used to serve as pasture or forestry plantation, while others have been covered by ancient forest for a very long time. Thanks to the studies we conducted in recent years, we know that the entire reserve fulfills an important function as a safe habitat for numerous (special) plant and animal species. With the new research, however, we are zooming in further and asking what past land use is currently affecting life in the various habitats.

Differences in tree species

Life in the rainforest obviously depends on the trees there in many ways, for example as a source of food, shelter, substrate for other plants and so on. Different tree species provide different services in this regard and make the presence of other plant and animal species possible or impossible. Moreover, tree species sequester carbon dioxide in different ways in trunks, branches and roots. Therefore, the number of trees and their species composition are a very important factor in rainforest biodiversity. We want to investigate whether there are differences between the habitats found in the reserve. Does rainforest that was pasture 40 years ago differ from rainforest where there was once a forestry plantation, for example. And how do they compare to an old, pristine rainforest?

Reservation in compartments

In the coming years we will divide the reserve into a large number of imaginary boxes. These boxes will be stored using GPS. Within these courses we will take measurements. In a first phase we will look at the thickness of the trees and their species composition in different courses. These data will tell us what influence land use decades later has on tree diversity and CO2 uptake. Moreover, by re-examining the courses annually, we will see how the forest continues to develop there. In addition, we can combine the knowledge we have gained about the animals with the knowledge of trees to reveal new relationships. In a later phase, we will also start surveying the rest of the vegetation (herbs, mosses, bromeliads, orchids, etc.) in these courses to get an even more complete picture. Research projects done on this scale and precision are scarce and of great value worldwide.

Input from researchers at Utrecht University

This ambitious research plan is only possible with the professional input of researchers from Utrecht University and from other institutes. However, the help of our students and volunteers remains indispensable. The knowledge we will gain will help Foundation Adopt Rainforest to understand the value of the reserve even better and possibly make more targeted choices for future rainforest acquisition or land use recommendations in the region. In addition, our data will serve a much broader purpose in the longer term, as regeneration and reforestation are of great importance globally in the fight against climate change, habitat fragmentation, and species and biodiversity conservation. Our project can serve as a show-case in the future and data can be extrapolated to large bids in the tropics so that conservationists can take effective action.

We can’t wait to get started with our students and volunteers on this monster job, which will take several years to complete, and hope that (potential) visitors are equally excited about the new research skills you can gain here. In addition, we remain active with ongoing research on tropical animals, so there is something for everyone.