KU Researcher Eyes The Rain Forest Through The Trees

LAWRENCE, Kans. -- In 1993, Science magazine estimated that 100,000 to 165,000 square kilometers of tropical rain forests are lost to deforestation annually - clear-cutting of native forests.

That's an area roughly equal to half the state of Kansas.

So when Valery Terwilliger, assistant professor of geography at the University of Kansas, talks about deforestation in Central and South America, she makes her point quickly.

"There are now many regions where we can stop asking the question, 'Is all this deforestation going to have an impact?' Local people know there is an impact," Terwilliger said. "We need to try to answer the question, 'To what extent can we recover the losses?'"

Terwilliger is hoping her research on plant tissues and plant growth in Central America will help developing countries start a reforestation trend and possibly turn the native plant life into a profitable resource.

"In the countries where I have worked, such as Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, there is a real concern that they have overextended themselves in deforestation," she said.

Terwilliger believes that if countries realize they need trees for growth and survival, they can capitalize on native species and return the cleared land back to its native foliage.

Terwilliger starts her research on a species by obtaining specimens in the rain forest and then examining them in a KU lab to analyze the stable isotopes in the plant tissues.

The research shows how well plants are using carbon dioxide and water in tropical forests that are normally inaccessible to measurement.

The lab is a facility to analyze stable, or nonradioactive, isotopes of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The research shows how well plants are using carbon dioxide and water in tropical forests that are normally inaccessible to measurement.

"I am interested in the ranges of environments that trees of a similar species can occupy."

The lab was developed with a grant from the National Science Fo

Contact: Dann Hayes
University of Kansas

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