New guide to tropical seedlings: Essential to climate change research

Jun 26, 2009
Robin Foster (left), now at the Field Museum in Chicago, was co-founder of the tropical forest dynamics plot on Barro Colorado Island and wrote the forward to this guide. Credit: Marcos Guerra, STRI

The enormous trees forming rainforest canopies bear little resemblance to their seedlings, many described for the first time in the new field guide, "Seedlings of Barro Colorado Island and the Neotropics," published in July 2009 by Cornell University Press. Author Nancy Garwood, professor of plant biology at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, began the daunting task of describing seedling stages of tropical plants 25 years ago at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Garwood's guide greatly simplifies the process of identifying seedlings, which lack brightly colored flowers, fruit and other distinguishing adult characteristics. Richly illustrated by Margaret Tebbs, the guide includes descriptions of nearly 3,000 species in 1,243 genera representing 229 families.

"Exact description of plants and animals at all life stages underlies profound ecological insight," said Ira Rubinoff, staff scientist and director emeritus of the institute, who gave the go-ahead for the establishment of a novel, large scale forest-monitoring plot on Barro Colorado Island in 1980. Botanists are in the midst of their 16th annual seedling census, enabled by Garwood's pioneering work to identify seedlings there.

Mosannona garwoodii seedling from Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Credit: Rolando Perez, STRI

The forest-dynamics plot in Panama was the first of 34 such plots in a multi-institutional network coordinated by the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Smithsonian Global Earth Observatories project. Garwood and collaborators head up comparative studies at the plots in Yasuni, Ecuador, and in the Luquillo plot in Puerto Rico aimed at understanding the role of different life-history stages in different tropical communities and their responses to environmental change.

"Seed and seedling survival, perhaps the most vulnerable stages in the life of a plant, define the outcomes of climate change, carbon cycling and biodiversity evolution on a very local scale and across the globe," said Rubinoff. "This first guide to tropical forest will be an essential handbook as we continue long-term monitoring of forests in this hemisphere."

Source: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Explore further: Noted researchers warn that biomedical research system in US is unsustainable

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nature encourages biodiversity, study

Jan 26, 2006

A study of seven tropical forests around the world has shown nature encourages biodiversity by favoring the growth of less common trees. Older, rarer trees get a survival boost.

Seeing The Forest And The Trees

Oct 24, 2005

With human emissions of carbon dioxide on the rise, there is growing interest in maintaining the Earth's natural mechanisms that absorb and store carbon.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.