Research at the Community Ecology and Conservation Group presently covers four main themes. These are briefly described below. More information on individual projects in each theme can be accessed through the drop down menu above or through indicated links provided in the descriptions below.

Theme 1:  Forest Ecology and Conservation:


We have established a permanent forest fragment plot network encompassing 50 plots in in the Menglun area, including both large forest reserves and small forest fragments embedded within a rubber plantation matrix.

Map showing forest fragmentation around Menglun Town, Xishuangbanna. (Red: Urban; Pale green: rubber plantation; Dark green: forest fragments.)

Map showing forest fragmentation around Menglun Town, Xishuangbanna. (Key to colours: red: settlements; pale green: rubber plantation; dark green: forest fragments.)

We are finishing tree inventories, soil measurements and stand structure measurements in these plots and invite other researchers with interest in forest fragmentation to come to XTBG and use this plot network for their research. We have a number of projects currently running on this topic. More can be found out about these here.

We hope to develop an interdisciplinary research facility where data will be freely shared between researchers to explore new and exciting hypotheses on the effects of forest fragmentation on ecological communities.

Coordination: Please contact Kyle Tomlinson or Ferry Slik (University Brunei Darussalam) if you have an interesting idea that you want to test using our plot network!

Mika fieldwork 3        Bonnie and Lu Yun at work        Beng at Work

Community Responses to Disturbance

Natural or anthropogenic disturbance in forests changes the forest structure and results in shifts of species composition and traits in a community. The influence of  disturbance depends on intensity and type of disturbance as well as the time since the disturbance event. Two of our projects consider forest community (trees or lianas) along disturbance gradients, whether over time or space, including data on traits, species composition and phylogenetic structure. Understanding successional pathways in forests gives insight how species assembly works and can also help conservation projects working on forest recovery.

Coordination:  Kyle Tomlinson, Ferry Slik

disturbance1          Mareike liana          Liana biggie

Theme 2:  Savanna Ecology

The Global Experiment on Savanna Tree Seedlings (GEST) is a comparative experiment

Parkland savanna in Yuanjiang Valley, central Yunnan Province.

Parkland savanna in Yuanjiang Valley, central Yunnan Province. Dominant tree species is Haldina cordifolia.

of seedling growth of savanna tree species, based on increasing evidence that the seedling stage of tree growth is critically important to the long-term dynamics of savanna systems. Research worldwide suggests there are differences in the environmental limitations constraining savanna tree seedlings in wet environments (nutrients, light, fire) and dry environments (water, nutrients, grazing). In addition, biogeographical studies have indicated that regional distribution of tree species in tropical and sub-tropical savannas in Africa, Australia and the Americas, is related to rainfall gradients and to soil fertility, suggesting that different tree growth traits are required for each of these environments. We are assessing the relative importance of different resources – water, nutrients, light – for the growth of seedlings that are dominant at different locations in savannas around the world, how their growth is affected by competition from local grasses, and whether their growth has been modified in response to defoliation pressures.

The GEST website is here.

Coordination: The GEST project is a pan-continental collaboration. It is coordinated by Frank van Langevelde (Wageningen University) and Kyle Tomlinson

GEST greenhouse       GEST Humid SA measure        GEST greenhouse 2

Theme 3: Evolution and Ecological significance of spinescence in plants

There is increasing evidence that the worldwide diversity of plant functional traits (morphological, chemical and physiological) is in part due to selection under herbivory pressure. However, in contrast to the consensus that is emerging as to how resource gradients affect plant trait selection, a cohesive theory of how herbivory has selected traits remains remote. This represents a serious bottleneck in scientific understanding of plant trait diversity. 
In this project we seek to describe the trait diversity and geographical distribution of spinescence (possession of thorns and prickles), which is thought to have evolved as a response to vertebrate herbivory. No theory has yet been expounded that can explain where and how spinescence is advantaged over other forms of plant defence in environmental space. In this project we seek to address this through a number of interlinked investigations that address: (1) the evolutionary history of spinescence; (2) the diversity and biogeography of spinescence; (3) in situ fitness experiments comparing spinescent defences against other non-spinescent defences; and (4) manipulative experiments evaluating the plasticity of spinescent-associated plant traits and the costs of spinescence.

Coordination: Kyle Tomlinson

Thorns Acacia karroo       GEST savanna       DSC09199





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