Biography:Dan joined Earthwatch as Head of Climate Change Research in 2007. He is responsible for scientific research at the five global climate change field centres, in the UK, USA, Brazil, China and India, where the relationship between forest management and climate change is being investigated. His doctorate considered the influence of El Nino-related droughts on forest regeneration in Borneo, and he has research experience in reduced-impact silviculture in Canada, sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants in India and Nepal, and the biology of woodland fungi in the UK. His professional interests are the ecology and management of forests, and experimental design and statistics. Dan also holds a Research Fellowship in Biology at St. Peter's College, Oxford University, where he teaches ecology and statistics.:
- What is unique about the HSBC Climate Partnership research programme?
The programme is part of a global effort by the world’s forest research community to understand the role that forests play in the carbon cycle, and how forests will be affected by climate change. In particular, the effect of human impacts on forest responses to climate will be addressed. The basic idea was developed in collaboration with Prof. Yadvinder Mahli of Oxford University, Dr. Michael Morecroft of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Dr. Stuart Davies of the Centre for Tropical Forest Science. Researchers from our local partner organizations at each Regional Climate Centre modified the experimental design to their particular forest conditions.
- How were the sites of the Regional Climate Centres chosen?
Earthwatch chose five key temperate and tropical forests, representative of managed forests worldwide. Results from research in these areas will be globally relevant as they will be applicable throughout similar habitats. Brazil, the USA, China and India are all in the top 10 countries by forest cover making them particularly critical for this research.
The regional climate centres (RCCs) in Brazil & India are located in ‘biodiversity hotspots’. They are regions which boast exceptionally high numbers of species due to the richness and diversity of their habitats.
All sites have forests that have been and continue to be heavily impacted by humans. One of our key research areas is the relationship between human impacts on ecosystems and their ability to adapt to climate change.
Also, as part of our commitment to minimizing CO2 emissions, Earthwatch chose locations close to HSBC employment hubs to reduce the distance that employees will need to travel to the project sites.
- How is the research programme contributing to global strategies to mitigate climate change?
Forest carbon is the least well-known component of the global carbon cycle. There is great uncertainty as to how much carbon forests contain, and how they will respond to climate change in the future. The programme will contribute to both of these questions
- The forest areas being studied have all been modified by human disturbance. Why is the partnership focussing efforts on these areas over primary forests?
Most, if not all, the World’s forests have been affected by people, and will continue to be. Primary, or undisturbed, forests, are interesting from an academic perspective, but to really understand the role that forests play in mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity, we need more information on the effects of human disturbances on these properties.
- How did you design the specific research methods that are being used?
The methodologies are largely based on those developed by the Center for Tropical Forest Science, for studying the dynamics of tree growth and survival. The basic method – to map, measure, and identify all trees within a permanently-marked plot – has been modified from the CTFS method to focus more on carbon monitoring. The programme uses smaller plots than the CTFS system, to allow for plots to be placed in several sites that have been managed in different ways.
- How does the research benefit from working with HSBC climate champion teams? What have they achieved so far?
The climate champions are involved in almost all aspects of the research projects, and so have contributed to the measurement of thousands of trees, the sorting of hundreds of leaf litter samples, and the reading of hundreds of dendrometer bands. All this information is vital to understanding how forests will change in the future, and how we can manage forests to provide the important goods and services that we value.
- Have you been surprised by any of the findings to date?
I will withhold my surprise until all the data have been properly validated and analysed, but there have been some interesting observations. For example, at the China RCC, the number of tree species in some of the plantation forest plots approaches that of the primary forest. Plantations could therefore maintain some level of tree diversity.
- The HSBC Climate Partnershipends in 2012 yet climate change studies will need data collected over a long period of time to properly evaluate long-term trends. What will happen to these sites in 2012?
Through this programme we are working with local communities in order to hand over the baton of the research we are conducting at the end of five years. This programme is designed to work alongside communities and local research partners to really help design positive steps for their future in a changing climate.
- What do you intend to do with the data that is collected at each site?
The data will be published by the researchers and thereby be made available to those interested in forest management. In most cases, the data will also be made available to the public.
- HSBC have demonstrated huge commitment to supporting this research and engaging their employees worldwide. Are you hopeful that other companies will follow HSBC’s example?
Yes, of course we’re hopeful! Early results show that climate champions benefit enormously from their experiences as research assistants. Their knowledge, enthusiasm and energy has increased dramatically. There really is no substitute to getting out of the office and engaging in field research, to really understand and appreciate environmental issues such as climate change.
Listen again to Dan speaking at the Earthwatch lecture at the Royal Geographical Society