DATABASE: Lives of a Forest

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Science  22 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5721, pp. 475
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5721.475e

If a tree falls in the moist tropical forest of Panama's Barro Colorado Island, ecologists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) might not hear it. But they will find out, thanks to their regular surveys of the locale, which began in 1981. Now anyone can download 20 years' worth of data from this project to monitor tropical trees. About every 5 years, STRI researchers have fanned out through a 50-hectare plot on the island, counting, measuring, and mapping every tree above chest height. The census has tracked more than 350,000 trees from 300 species, including the golden guayacan (Tabebuia guayacan), and is one of the longest-running ecology studies, says group leader Richard Condit. After filling out a short questionnaire, visitors can download data from the first four surveys and use them to calculate values such as mortality and growth rates for different species.

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