News FocusEcology

Taking the Measure of Madidi

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Science  20 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6092, pp. 285-287
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6092.285

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Botanists and biologists have long grounded their understanding of the natural world on long-term projects such as the Madidi Project, which measures tree growth in a Bolivian forest that is one of the largest, most diverse protected areas on the planet. Recurrent surveys of the same communities generate data that help researchers figure out how species interact in the face of environmental change or nearby human activity. As climate change descends upon us, it's becoming critical to identify factors influencing tree survival. Trees can shift their range when threatened in their current habitat, say by long-term drought or a more competitive species. Through seed dispersal and other regeneration mechanisms, trees can move to a better area. Otherwise, to survive, they must adapt, evolving traits better suited to the new conditions. The choices will determine the biodiversity of future forests.

  • * Jean Friedman-Rudovsky is a journalist based in La Paz, Bolivia.