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Study of tropical forests worldwide reveals that nature encourages diversity

An analysis of seven tropical forests around the world has found that nature encourages diversity by selecting for less common trees as the trees mature.

The landmark study, which was conducted by 33 ecologists from 12 countries and published in the January 27 issue of the journal Science, conclusively demonstrates that diversity matters and has ecological importance to tropical forests.

"Ecologists have debated for decades over whether there is something of ecological value to species diversity," says Christopher Wills, a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, who headed the study. "We found that in forests throughout the New and Old World tropics, older trees are more diverse than younger ones. In other words, diversity is actually selected for as each of the forests matures. This means diversity does indeed matter and is an essential property of these complex ecosystems."

The study was conducted on seven undisturbed forest plots, or "tropical forest observatories," maintained and studied by research institutions in Borneo, India, Malaysia, Panama, Puerto Rico and Thailand, under the coordination of the Center for Tropical Forest Science of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, based in Panama.

"The great scientific value of these tropical forest observatories is that each of them has undergone a complete census more than once, so that the researchers know what has happened to hundreds of thousands of trees from one census to the next," says Stuart Davies, the recently appointed director of the Center for Tropical Forest Science. "These tropical forest observatories, along with others in our network, represent some of the most important, detailed and long-running ecological studies in the world today."

In addition to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the institutions that manage the tropical forest observatories included in this study are the Indian Institute of Science, Royal Fo
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Contact: Kim McDonald
kmcdonald@ucsd.edu
858 534-7572
University of California - San Diego
26-Jan-2006


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