Networking for the Sustainable Future of the Tropics

Japanese Society for Tropical Ecology (JASTE) will hold its 25th Annual Meeting from 19 to 21 June, in Kyoto, Japan, kicking off with an international symposium, “Networking for the Sustainable Future of the Tropics”. The International Network of Next Generation Ecologist (INNGE) will sponsor a YouTube live streaming this event, available only to those pre-registered.

Date: 19 June 2015
Time: 14:00 – 18:00 (Japan Standard Time)
(Register here for YouTube Live Streaming:
(For full program, visit…/symposium/index.html)

Program details:

Moderator: Kaoru Kitajima (Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Japan; President Elect, Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation)


  • 14:10–14:35 Stuart J. DAVIES (Center for Tropical Forest Science, Smithsonian Institution, USA; Global Forest Observatory) “Forests in the Anthropocene: Recent results from a global forest observing system”
  • 14:35–15:00 Robin L. CHAZDON (University of Connecticut, USA; Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation) “Networking to understand tropical reforestation and its socio-ecological context in an age of deforestation”
  • 15:00–15:25 Hajanirina F. RAKOTOMANANA (University of Antananarivo, Madagascar; Tropical Biology Association) “Tropical Biology Association for safeguarding the natural resources in Africa and other tropical regions”
  • 15:35–16:00 Moira M. M. MOELIONO (Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia; Asian Social Forestry Network) “ASFN, ASFCC and CIFOR Research”
  • 16:00–16:25 Mitsuru OSAKI (Hokkaido University, Japan; International Peat Society) “The peatland / wetland as carbon-water linkage ecosystems”
  • 16:25–16:50 F. E. (Jack) PUTZ (University of Florida, USA) “Research networks to promote responsible tropical forest management”

Results of the ATBC 2015 Survey

Thanks to all who completed the recent ATBC survey. Your responses have been very helpful in the development of our new Strategic Plan, a draft of which will soon be distributed to all ATBC members. For your interest, we provide a summary of the responses to the survey. Note that some open-ended questions could not be readily summarised and have not been included. There will be opportunities to discuss these survey results, and how the ATBC will respond to them, at the forthcoming annual meeting in July. We look forward to seeing you there.

ATBC Survey May 2015

Jaboury Ghazoul

Are tropical species intensely vulnerable to global warming?

From William Laurance at

On 12 January 2002, Cambridge University doctoral student Justin Welbergen was studying the behavior of a large colony of flying foxes in subtropical eastern Australia.  What he witnessed that day shocked him.

Doesn't like the heat… a grey-headed flying fox.

Doesn’t like the heat… a grey-headed flying fox.

It was a hot afternoon, and as the thermostat climbed above 40 degrees Centigrade, the giant bats became obviously distressed.  They began fighting over shady spots in the canopy.  Then they began licking their wrists and flapping their wings in a desperate effort to cool themselves.

Finally, as the temperature hit 42 degrees C, they began to die — in the thousands.  On that day at least 3,500 bats died, in nine different nearby colonies.  Females and juveniles were especially vulnerable.

What Welbergen observed was a phenomenon that has now been seen elsewhere — from mass disappearances of lizards in Mexico to the dramatic population collapse of the white lemuroid possum in north Queensland rainforests.

There are two striking conclusions from these observations.  First, to the surprise of many, tropical species may be the most vulnerable of all organisms on the planet to global warming.  Second, it isn’t a steadily rising thermostat that endangers most species, but short, intense pulses of unusually warm conditions — heat waves.

Why are tropical species so vulnerable?  In short, many are thermal specialists.  Think, for instance, about a polar bear — our traditional icon for global warming.  It has to deal with temperatures ranging from, say, minus 50 degrees C in winter to plus 35 degrees C in summer — a huge range of temperatures.

But tropical species are different.  Lowland tropical species, for instance, might see temperatures ranging from just 25 to 35 degrees during the course of a normal year — a far narrower range.  As a result, they can become much more thermally specialized.

Where temperatures vary the most in the tropics is as a function of elevation.  On average, for every thousand meters that one goes up in elevation, the temperature drops by 6 degrees C.

What that means is that tropical species are not just thermal specialists, they also tend to be elevational specialists.  Species tend to be adapted for the very warm lowlands, or for the cooler mid-elevations, or for the wet, cloudy high elevations, where conditions are almost chilly.

And it’s the high-elevation specialists — such as the white lemuroid possum — that a lot of scientists are really worried about.

Many tend to be locally endemic species, because their populations are genetically isolated from other populations on different mountaintops.  Hence, they have small geographic ranges and, often, small population sizes.

And they may be intensely vulnerable to global warming.  As temperatures rise, the geographic ranges of many high-elevation species in the tropics are predicted to shrink and fragment — potentially disappearing altogether.  For instance, in the Australian wet tropics, most upland-endemic species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are predicted to disappear entirely if temperatures should rise by more than 4-6 degrees C.

It’s a frightening prospect, and it suggests that global warming could have far wider-reaching impacts than many might suspect — especially in the tropics, the world’s biologically richest real estate.

ALERT member Pierre-Michel Forget has just given a wonderful 30-minute interview on this topic.  Forget is a highly authoritative scientist — a former president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation and now Vice-President of the Society for Tropical Ecology.  He asks, what would just a 1 degree C increase in temperature do to tropical forests and their species?

It’s definitely worth a half-hour to hear this enlightening lecture — and to share it with your colleagues and students.

The bottom line is this: Given that tropical ecosystems are so rich in species and thermal specialists, the best icon for global warming might not be a polar bear — but a tropical white possum or flying fox.

Cambodian Journal of Natural History

The Cambodian Journal of Natural History, Cambodia’s first peer-reviewed scientific journal, was launched in 2008 by Fauna & Flora International and the Royal University of Phnom Penh as part of the University Capacity Building Project.

Aimed at helping Cambodian scientists to share their findings and improve their writing skills, it addresses the critical need for information on the conservation status and management requirements of Cambodian biodiversity.

The journal publishes original work by Cambodian and foreign scientists on all aspects of Cambodian natural history, including species behaviour, new species records, landscape ecology, management policies and the use of natural resources.

All papers are peer-reviewed by leading national and international scientists and published in English, with summaries in Khmer language.

More than half of the authors are Cambodians. Many of them have had little prior experience of writing scientific papers, but our editors and International Editorial Board members gently coach and guide novice authors to improve their analysis and presentation.

Young scientists are thus gaining valuable new skills and confidence to write up their work, while distinguished veterans can use the journal to ensure their findings reach a wide audience in Cambodia.

(Link to journal)

The Phnom Penh Declaration: Biologists voice concerns about Cambodia’s environment

The largest-ever gathering of tropical biologists and environmental scientists to meet in Cambodia has expressed strong concerns about several development trends in the country, and in Southeast Asia generally.

(Link to the Phnom Penh Declaration)

Over 300 scientists from 29 nations met in Phnom Penh this week, representing the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC).

“We have a number of worries, but our most immediate concern is the proposed road that would slice through vitally important forest in Mondulkuri Province in eastern Cambodia, from Srea Ampos to Kbal Damrei,” said Seng Teak, Conservation Director, WWF Greater Mekong.

“This road would clearly imperil one of the biologically richest forests in Indochina, an area that provides critical habitat for rare wildlife such as Elephants, Leopards, and Banteng, as well as over 230 bird species,” said Mr Teak.

“Unfortunately, roads that cut into wilderness areas like that in Mondulkuri almost always open a Pandora’s box of environmental problems, such as illegal logging, poaching, and land clearing,” said William Laurance, a former ATBC president, and professor at James Cook University in Australia and a leading expert on the environmental impacts of roads and other infrastructure.

“This is a critical time for decisions impacting wildlife and natural resources in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia,” said Teak.  “There are huge plans ahead for new roads, dams, mining projects, and other infrastructure that could have severe environmental impacts.”

“It’s absolutely vital that there be rigorous environmental impact assessments done before any major project is undertaken,” said Teak.  “And we need a precautionary approach to projects—to look at them very carefully to ensure that they really are essential.”

“If we don’t, we could lose a lot of the wildlife and natural ecosystems that make Cambodia unique, and that form the basis of our thriving and highly profitable tourism industry,” said Teak.

For further information contact:

Distinguished Professor William Laurance
James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
Email: (monitored constantly)
Skype: bill.laurance

Dr Tony Lynam
ATBC-Asia-Pacific Secretary and Conference Organizer
Bangkok, Thailand
Email: (monitored constantly)

The Phnom Penh Declaration: Importance of environmental and social impact assessments prior to infrastructure development in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest and other Cambodian biodiversity hotspots

The 300 participants from 29 countries who attended the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) held in Phnom Penh from 30 March to 2 April, 2015, organized under the main theme of The Future of Biodiversity in Tropical Asia: Addressing Local and Global Challenges,

  1. Appreciating that the forests, river systems and other natural environments of Southeast Asia are among the most biologically diverse and environmentally important ecosystems on the Earth,
  1. Recognizing that the number and proportion of threatened, endangered, and critically endangered species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and tree species is higher in Southeast Asia than in any other region of the planet,
  1. Mindful of the dependency of the livelihood of rural people in Cambodia and its neighboring countries on sustainable use of renewable biological resources, such as freshwater fishery and non-timber forest products from natural and semi-natural ecosystems,
  1. Observing that a very large number of major infrastructure projects, such as new highways, roads, hydroelectric dams, power lines, gas lines, and other energy projects, are currently being planned or are under construction in Southeast Asia,
  1. Mindful that roads constructed by logging, industrial crop and infrastructure projects have been shown to sharply increase rates of immigration, non-sustainable resource overexploitation, deforestation, forest burning, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and other serious environmental impacts,
  1. Concerned that forest degradation, deforestation and land conversion threatens ecosystem services provided by forests, such as a steady supply of water, climate regulation, moderation of heat waves, soil conservation and traditional forest products,
  1. Welcoming the efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia to review and revise national land allocation policies to meet the challenge of balancing the welfare of rural people, economic development, and conservation of its natural and cultural heritages,

Make the following recommendations,

  1. To work together to strengthen the decision support tools and information available that enable prioritization and decision about the best location of infrastructure projects. 
  2. To conduct thorough environmental and social impact assessments as part of infrastructure development in areas particularly important for conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services,
  3. To consider the views from multiple stakeholders while evaluating potential trade-offs associated with infrastructure development,
  4. To carefully evaluate the alternatives and follow with the developmental plan that minimizes the environmental impacts,
  5. In particular, to conduct a thorough environmental impact assessment and consider alternative developmental plans to the proposed Srea Ampos – Kbal Damrei Road in Mondulkiri Protection Forest, and any other road proposed to be built in a Protection Forest in Cambodia for the reasons detailed below.

The Mondulkiri Protected Forest is a globally important protected area that supports some of the most threatened species in Asia. The construction of the Srea Ampos – Kbal Damrei Road would require deforesting 36 kilometers of protected forest, including 19 kilometers within the designated Special Ecosystem Zone, which forms the core of the largest area of lowland deciduous dipterocarp forest remaining in South-east Asia.

The Mondulkiri Protected Forest provides Cambodia with substantial natural resources and ecosystem services. In addition, it has unique and global significance for biodiversity, given that it supports the world’s largest population of banteng Bos javanicus, the largest population of Leopard Panthera pardus in Indochina, and more than 230 bird species, including 9 species listed by the IUCN as Globally Threatened.

The Special Ecosystem Zone sustains more than 150 individuals of Elephas maximus, representing the largest population of elephants in Cambodia. This population moves across the route of the proposed road as part of their annual migrations.

The current road development plan poses a high risk of diminishing the opportunity for sustainable, nature-based tourism that would be critical to secure long-term economic returns to local communities and provincial government.

In conclusion, we recommend thorough environmental impact assessment and wise planning based on it, which may entail cancellation of road proposals for Mondulkiri Province, and other Protection Forests, and development of alternative plans, in order to minimize damage to the natural capital of Cambodia, and Southeast Asia.

Phnom Penh, 2nd April 2015
The Participants

Cropping Africa’s wet savannas would bring high environmental costs

DSC_0093Researchers from Princeton University published a paper in Nature Climate Change that examines the environmental costs relative to the potential crop and biofuel production benefits of farming Africa’s higher rainfall savannas.  They found that only 2-11% of these areas qualify as high benefit/low cost in terms of maize and soy yield potential relative to the carbon that would be released from land transformation, while only 1-3% of the land would produce biofuels that meet EU standards for greenhouse gas savings. They also found that this region has mammal and bird diversity similar to that tropical forests.  These findings suggest that African savannas cannot produce commodity crops or biofuel for global export without incurring significant environmental cost, and that new crop production in these areas should be prioritized for meeting the continent’s rapidly growing food demand. The authors emphasize the need for more detailed, country-level analyses to identify the areas where food production can be maximized for the least ecological cost. Please follow this link for more detail.

PhD Studentship on the Role of Symbionts and Pollinating Insects in Plant Speciation Along Altitudinal Gradients

BC LogoWe are seeking a highly motivated postgraduate student to join our international team studying speciation in plants and insects along tropical altitudinal gradients. We are based at the Laboratory for Tropical Ecology at the Institute of Entomology, Biology Centre Academy of Sciences, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic. The successful applicant will have strong background in:

  • Entomology
  • Botany
  • Bioinformatics
  • Molecular ecology
  • Population genetics
  • And/or biostatistics

He/she will be supervised by Simon Segar and expected to develop a research programme on speciation in Ficus, their pollinating wasps and symbiotic microbes of the wasps along a continuously forested altitudinal gradient in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The project will involve field work in PNG and the use of next generation sequencing to study the population genetics of plant/insect/microbe networks. The successful candidate will be expected to work closely with our collaborators at the University of Minnesota (USA) and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at the University of Western Sydney (Australia).

The position is fully funded (tuition, research and living expenses) for EU applicants only (but candidates from all countries are eligible). The duration of the position is four years and a completed MSc degree is required as is the equivalent of a 1st or 2.1 undergraduate degree in biology, ecology or a related field. The successful candidate will have to conduct field work in a tropical forest in often challenging conditions. They will be able to work independently and have experience with the collection and analysis of population genetic data.

For further details of the project please see:

To apply please send a CV, contact details for three references, and cover letter stating qualifications, previous work and motivation to Simon Segar ( The deadline for applications is April 20th 2015, with a preferred start date of June 1st.

‘Sustainable’ corporation blasted for destroying Amazon rainforest

A corporation that aims to be the world’s biggest supplier of ‘sustainable’ cacao — the main ingredient in chocolate — is being accused by scientists from ALERT of destroying large expanses of biodiversity-rich forest in Peru.

ALERT –the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers — issued this press release today.

Rainforest destruction in the Peruvian Amazon...

Rainforest destruction in the Peruvian Amazon…

The Company, United Cacao, previously raised 10 million pounds on the London Stock Exchange, and is now hoping to raise additional funds on the Lima Stock Exchange in Peru to expand its operations in the Peruvian Amazon.

ALERT scientists caution investors that United Cacao’s products may be far from environmentally sustainable, and that they should exercise exceptional caution before investing in the company or its Peruvian subsidiary, Cacao del Peru Norte.

“This company has its roots in Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry, which has been a huge driver of forest destruction,” said ALERT director William Laurance.  Laurance has conducted research in the Amazon region for nearly 20 years.

“World-class scientists at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University and the Amazon Conservation Association have used satellite data and cutting-edge laser technology to show that United Cacao has recently cleared more than 2,000 hectares of mostly old-growth rainforest in Peru,” said ALERT member Thomas Lovejoy, a long-term Amazon expert and former environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents.

A small fraction of the cleared land evidently was farmed in the past, and parts of the forest were likely selectively logged in the 1980s, according to a detailed report in the leading environmental website, based on thorough investigative research by John C. Cannon.

However, the laser technology — known as LIDAR — has shown that the carbon stocks contained in the destroyed forests were among the highest known for the Peruvian Amazon, according to Carnegie researcher Greg Asner.  This clearly indicates that the cleared block was formerly dominated by mature or old-growth rainforest.

“There’s no way you can clear old-growth rainforest and then claim to produce sustainable cacao,” said Lovejoy.

“Not only that,” said Lovejoy, “but the corporation did so very quietly and without conducting an environmental impact study.  That sets a very dangerous precedent.”

“We see a lot of green-washing among corporations today — where firms try to appear sustainable but really aren’t,” said ALERT member Lian Pin Koh, an associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“My fear, based on these recent findings of large-scale forest destruction, is that United Cacao is one of these green-washing corporations,” said Koh.

“The forests of the Peruvian Amazon are just about the biologically richest real estate on the planet,” said Laurance.  “And unfortunately there’s a feeding frenzy happening, with large-scale expansion of oil palm and cacao plantations, as well as a great deal of legal and illegal mining and logging.”

“Investors need to be sure that they’re putting their money into projects and corporations that are truly sustainable,” said Laurance.  “Right now we have a lot of doubts about United Cacao.”

Stanford scientists team with indigenous people to produce detailed carbon calculations of Amazon rainforest

The results from a long-term collaboration between Stanford scientists and indigenous people in Guyana suggests that traditional remote sensing techniques might be undervaluing the region’s carbon storage potential by as much as 40 percent. The work could influence how indigenous people in Guyana and elsewhere manage their forests and lead to greater opportunities for these communities to engage in carbon offset programs.

The project, led by Jose Fragoso, a senior scientist in the Department of Biology at Stanford, grew out of his earlier efforts to engage indigenous peoples to gain a better understanding of ecosystems relatively undisturbed by modern civilization.

[Read more]

The ATBC needs your views and opinions

Dear Tropical Biologist,

The Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) is conducting a survey to allow us to more effectively meet the needs of tropical biologists across the world.

For this purpose, we would greatly appreciate your response to a short survey (5 to 10 minutes) about how the ATBC can and should serve tropical biologists.

The survey is anonymous and your responses will not be linked to your email address.

Here is a link to the survey:

The responses you provide will shape the new ATBC strategy that is currently being developed and which will be presented at the ATBC annual meeting in Hawaii, July 13-16.

Thank you for your time,

Jaboury Ghazoul
President, ATBC