Tropical mountain rainforests are hotspots of biodiversity, but nevertheless are very labile ecosystems. The major threat originates from increasing land-use by a continuously growing human population.
The German research unit joins biologists, geoscientists, researchers in forestry and social anthropology in a multidisciplinary and comprehensive ecosystem study of a mountain rainforest in South Ecuador that extends from about 1200 to 3000 m a.s.l. In this area the pristine forest can be compared with several stages of its degradation originating from large- and small-scale human impact. In that respect the study objects are secondary forests, agricultural land and wide areas of former agricultural use which have been abandoned because of an ultimate takeover by extremely aggressive weeds. In addition to the analysis of the various ecosystems, a major aim of the research is to develop and implement methods of reforestation of the abandoned areas with indigenous trees. The findings will also allow conclusions for a sustainable use of the indigenous forest.
The mountain forests of Southern Ecuador belong to the worldwide hotspots of biodiversity. In spite of the adverse living conditions in that zone, the forests are heavily threatened by non-sustainable ways of land-use. With respect to deforestation Ecuador is ranking second under the states of South America. In most cases the natural forest is cleared for agricultural land-use, mainly for the establishment of pastures. Fire is used for clearing of the forest and for the maintenance of the pastures as well and this strongly favors growth of aggressive weeds. Sooner or later a major portion of the agricultural land has to be abandoned due to the complete takeover of the herbaceous and woody weeds. New areas have to be cleared by slash and burn.
The rationale of the multidisciplinary research group intends four steps: Inventory of the abiotic and biotic compartments, functionality of compartments, modeling of the ecosystem and sustainable utilization. Many projects will be undertaken in close cooperation with Ecuadorian scientists. Inventory and functionality of the ecosystem is being addressed on different scales: Microhabitats, microclimate, soils, water and nutrient availability at selected locations; individual organisms and populations, structures of plant and animal communities (alpha- and beta-diversity) and their interactions; different landscapes, landscape (forest) structures, and macroclimate, water- and nutrient relations and balances.
Due to the innovative nature of the study the findings will have significance far beyond the investigated area in Southern Ecuador.
There are many differnt projects carried out by the scientists.
Recent Progress Reports of the various groups are summarized here.
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