Research at Europe Regional Climate Centre
Description of site
The Europe Regional Climate Centre (ERCC) is based at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, in the UK. The wood comprises a 400 hectare mosaic of semi-natural and plantation woodland, surrounded by copses, hedges, and individual trees. The ancient areas of woodland have been forested since prehistoric times and there has been an almost continuous record of settlement dating back to medieval times. The fragmentation of the forest and its effects on forest function and ecology are of particular interest to the scientists. The woods were donated to the University of Oxford 1943, and have been used for scientific study since that time.
Research partner institution and Principal Investigator
Earthwatch works with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, as well as the Environmental Change Institute and Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at University of Oxford.
Volunteers from HSBC termed 'Climate Champions', assist with data collection in the field and data entry, overseen by the scientists.
The two principal investigators are Dr Eleanor Slade and Dr Terhi Riutti. Dr Eleanor Slade has a doctorate in tropical forest ecology from the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford. She studied the effects of selective logging on seedlings, herbivorous insects, and dung beetles in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Dr Terhi Riutta is a researcher at Environmental Change Institute. Terhi completed her PhD with the Department of Forest Ecology at the University of Helsinki. Her research area was carbon dynamics in peatland ecosystems in changing climatic conditions. Terhi also completed her Master’s degree in Forest Sciences at the University of Finland.
Data collection methods are as described in the Introduction to HCP Research page
Work commenced in April 2008 and will continue to December 2011. There are ten permanent sampling plots situated within fragments of varying sizes. The default plot size is 1 ha (100m x 100m), but due to size and shape of some of the fragments, not all plots are uniform (Figure 2; Table 1). There is also a Smithsonian plot on the site, which is part of the CTFS network of sites, within which one of the ERCC plots is located.
Leaf litter is collected every two or three weeks during the leaf fall season (from mid-August until the end of December) and sporadically throughout the rest of the year. Leaf litter decomposition is also studied: leaf litter decomposition rates are assessed by burying mesh bags of leaf litter at several locations in each plot. Leaves from two species – ash and oak are used. Bags are of fine or large mesh, thus excluding or allowing entry of macro invertebrates, to assess their role in leaf litter decomposition. Replicate bags are buried and retrieved at three month intervals over a year. The weight loss of litter is then measured in the laboratory, and amounts of carbon and nitrogen present are analysed. Rate of leaf litter decomposition is thus studied, and the relative contribution of soil macro-invertebrates assessed. The decomposition of dead plant material is an important component of the carbon cycle.
This supporting research is being carried out at the China RCC using the same methods, with the difference that four types of leaf litter used. Decomposition bags are placed in the core and edges of plots to investigate differences in decomposition rates in relation to forest edge. Forest edges are usually drier than interiors, and as moisture is a key factor in decomposition, the relative moisture of edge and core of plots may be a factor in decomposition rate. To investigate this, half of the experimental locations each at edge and interior were watered on a weekly basis.
Figure 2 Locations of plots at Wytham Woods. The Smithsonian plot is in the CTFS network of plots.
Table 1 Plot area, dimensions and number of leaf litter traps
In addition to the study of vegetation, animals within the woods are also studied. Small mammals (e.g. mice, voles) are surveyed, as are moths,. Small mammal populations are monitored in terms of the numbers found in different locations, species, sex and age of individuals caught and the recapture rate. Small mammals are trapped in humane traps and released back to the wild as soon as possible. The aim of the moth study is to understand their species distribution within and between fragments of different sizes, and whether they use linear landscape features (hedgerows) and stepping stones (isolated trees) to move across the landscape. For moth surveying, 44 moth traps (fig 3) were set up within the plots as well as hedgerows and isolated trees around the site. Throughout June and July of 2009 the traps were set before dusk and collected at dawn. Moths were identified to species level and each individual given a unique number with a permanent marker (fig 3). Records were kept as to species caught and the numbers assigned to individuals so that it would be known if individuals were re-captured.
Figure 3 A moth trap in Wytham Woods and two numbered moths