Supervisors: Prof. Alistair Jump, Prof. Danny Donoghue (Durham University), Dr Jan-Chang Chen (National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan), Dr Jens-Arne Subke.
Despite an abundance of data quantifying and predicting the response of forest distribution to on-going climatic changes in temperate and boreal regions, there is a near absence of data, and hence little understanding, of how tropical mountain systems will respond to climate change. This significant knowledge gap has major implications for our ability to predict future impacts of environmental change from global to local scales and for factors spanning from biome distribution and carbon economy to local biodiversity and ecosystem services. This project will be the first to combine plot-level forest inventory data with aerial photograph time series and high-resolution remote sensing data to quantify and predict below- ground changes associated with rapid shifts in tropical mountain forest distribution. The project will integrate existing data with field-based research and would suit students from a wide range of backgrounds, spanning from geography, through ecology to environmental science. An enthusiasm for fieldwork in mountain terrain and for understanding pattern and process at contrasting spatial scales is a must, however.
1) To determine how different forms of forest advance impact the structure and composition of mountain soils.
2) To identify the principal differences in nutrient cycling and decomposition rates as treeline advances.
3) To use existing land cover classifications to scale up plot-level below-ground data to the regional scale.
4) To combine regional scale estimates of below ground changes with existing data on forest distributional change to predict future carbon sequestration potential across the Central Mountain Region of Taiwan.
The high-altitude conifer forests and grasslands of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Region are dominated by very few and highly characteristic species. Consequently, responses to environmental change in these forests and across the forest-grassland ecotone are dominated by alterations to the distribution, growth and establishment patterns of these dominant tree species rather than through complex alterations of tree species composition.
Data on soil structure and function will be derived from plot-level sampling stratified by forest structural characteristics derived from previous research across the Central Mountain Region in Taiwan. These data will allow us to understand how the spatial and temporal pattern of treeline advance leads to alteration of soil carbon content (for total soil organic C as well as dominant fractions of organic matter), microbial diversity and greenhouse gas balance. Using litter bags, specific turnover of contrasting forms of litter (forest vs. grassland aboveground and belowground litter) at the treeline will be assessed. By combining quantification of soil organic matter with data on above-ground biomass available from forest inventory plots from a network of test sites, we will link changes in forest distribution to alteration of carbon stocking at the plot level.
Plot level data will then be combined with existing land-use and forest structural classifications to quantify the spatial extent and variability of below-ground changes. These spatial estimates will then be set in the context of quantifications of the rate of change derived from existing analyses of remote sensing data to quantify the spatial and temporal changes in carbon stocking as forests advance across the Central Mountain Range.