Biodiversity and climate form focus of forest canopy plan

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International rainforest project looks skywards.

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Conservation researchers last week announced a plan to create a global network of rainforest research stations. If it secures funding, they say that the network would boost knowledge about biodiversity in the forest canopy, and help track the effects of climate change.

The project, run by the Global Canopy Programme at the University of Oxford, UK, would recruit local workers and give them the equipment and skills needed to study the canopies of their home forests. Results from the stations would be compiled to give a global picture of the state of forest canopies.

One focus will be biodiversity — ecologists want to refine their estimate that the canopies contain 40% of all terrestrial species. The stations will also look for changes in how much carbon dioxide is taken up by forests — an ‘early warning’ of the effects of global warming. Climatologists fear that as temperatures rise and forested regions become drier, forest growth may slow and the trees' capacity for soaking up carbon dioxide will diminish.

The project aims to set up five new stations in Brazil, Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and India, to complement ten that already exist in forests around the world.

The plan is backed by the United Nations, which has already called for a world network of 20 canopy stations. Now the proponents, from 15 universities and research centres around the world, just need the money.

The stations should cost about US$18 million, the project's head, Andrew Mitchell, told a meeting on the Amazon Rainforest at the House of Commons in London on 21 July. “Compared to, say space exploration, it's a piffling amount of money,” he said.

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Global Canopy Programme

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Hopkin, M. Biodiversity and climate form focus of forest canopy plan. Nature 436, 452 (2005) doi:10.1038/436452a

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