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Ecosystem function and Diversity in Amazonia

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - E FUNDIA (Ecosystem function and Diversity in Amazonia)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-07-31

The forests of Amazonia are celebrated for both their exceptional biodiversity and their vital role in the global carbon and water cycles, which contribute towards climate change mitigation. However, our understanding of the spatial organisation of biodiversity and its interaction with ecosystem function at large scales is limited, due primarily to the laborious nature of collecting biodiversity data in Earth’s largest tropical forest. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) is a unique research platform, consisting of a custom-built aircraft providing airborne laser-guided spectral profiles of forest canopies at an unprecedented level of spatial and spectral resolution at large spatial scales (e.g. >100 km2). This ‘spectranomic’ approach presents a new paradigm in tropical forest ecology, as spectra reflect the chemical composition of leaves. When combined with careful field calibration, spectranomic techniques can be used to measure specific leaf traits (e.g. leaf N concentration), and potentially map the distribution of individual species at large spatial scales. The goal of E FUNDIA is to integrate state of the art, high fidelity imaging spectroscopy and extensive field plot networks in order to quantify the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function in lowland Amazonian tree communities at large spatial scales

The specific objectives of the project are:
1: Map the spatial distribution of >50 common tree species at landscape and regional scales in lowland Amazonia.
2: Determine the extent to which taxonomic diversity drives functional diversity across environmental gradients in lowland Amazonia.
3: Quantify the role of hyperdominant taxa in driving patterns of functional diversity across environmental gradients in lowland Amazonia.
Objective 1

Extensive fieldwork was undertaken to geolocate 50 individuals for 20 common tree species at two locations in Amazonian Peru. Initial analysis of these data showed that 2 meter resolution is likely insufficient for isolating most hyperdominant tree crowns for species mapping proposes in Amazonian forests.

UAV imagery with 2 cm spatial resolution was also collected for 100 ha of forests at each of the two field sites in lowland Amazonia. Initial analysis show that this data can be used to develop landscape scale species maps of some hyperdominant tree species, including valuable fruit producing palm species.

An alternative approach for examining the distribution of hyperdominant tree species was developed by establishing a new network of forest inventory plots across Amazonia that uniquely examined patterns of hyperdominance across Amazonian forests strata. Results from these analyses demonstrate that different tree species are dominant in different forest strata, and these dominance patterns vary among Amazonian regions. Furthermore, hyperdominant species in the understory of Amazonian forests consist of a range of species that belong to different Amazonian lineages, while those species that dominate the forest canopy are concentrated in a few key lineages.

Objective 2

Tree functional trait data has been assembled to characterise the key functional distributions across environmental gradients in lowland Amazonia. Additional floristic data has been assembled to quantify taxonomic diversity across the same environmental gradients. These data are currently being examined to test the extent to which taxonomic diversity drives functional diversity in lowland Amazonia.

Airborne imaging spectroscopy data has been assembled across sites in lowland Amazonia and across the global tropics more broadly. An unsupervised method for estimating taxonomic diversity from this imaging spectrscopy data has been developed and is being deployed across sites.

Objective 3

Functional trait data for hyperdominant tree species have been assembled. The functional trait space occupied by these hyperdominant tree species is being quantified and compared to that of entire tree communities in order to assess the role of hyperdominant tree species in driving patterns of functional tree diversity.
The proposal is expanding the state of the art on several fronts: First, the new network of forest plots developed in work package one is providing entirely new insights into the compositional structure of Amazonian forests. Second, the UAV approaches to map hyperdominant tree species at the 100 ha scale is providing a novel methodological approach for quantifying the distribution of palm species at this scale. Third, The unsupervised approach for estimating tree alpha diversity using remote imaging spectroscopy data in work package two will provide a new method for measuring the most fundamental aspect of biodiversity at potentially global scales.