The exceptionally high species richness of arthropods in tropical rainforests hinges on the complexity of the forest itself: that is, on features such as the high plant diversity, the layered nature of the canopy and the abundance and the diversity of epiphytes and litter. We here report on one important, but almost completely neglected, piece of this complex jigsaw-the intricate network of rhizomorph-forming fungi that ramify through the vegetation of the lower canopy and intercept falling leaf litter. We show that this litter-trapping network is abundant and intercepts substantial amounts of litter (257.3 kg ha(-1)): this exceeds the amount of material recorded in any other rainforest litter-trapping system. Experimental removal of this fungal network resulted in a dramatic reduction in both the abundance (decreased by 70.2 ± 4.1%) and morphospecies richness (decreased by 57.4 ± 5.1%) of arthropods. Since the lower canopy levels can contain the highest densities of arthropods, the proportion of the rainforest fauna dependent on the fungal networks is likely to be substantial. Fungal litter-trapping systems are therefore a crucial component of habitat complexity, providing a vital resource that contributes significantly to rainforest biodiversity.
Tropical forests are highly diverse systems involving extraordinary numbers of interactions between species, with each species responding in a different way to the abiotic environment. Understanding how these systems function and predicting how they respond to anthropogenic global change is extremely challenging. We argue for the necessity of 'whole-ecosystem' experimental manipulations, in which the entire ecosystem is targeted, either to reveal the functioning of the system in its natural state or to understand responses to anthropogenic impacts. We survey the current range of whole-ecosystem manipulations, which include those targeting weather and climate, nutrients, biotic interactions, human impacts, and habitat restoration. Finally we describe the unique challenges and opportunities presented by such projects and suggest directions for future experiments.
Land use change is a major threat to biodiversity. One mechanism by which land use change influences biodiversity and ecological processes is through changes in the local climate. Here, the relationships between leaf area index and five climate variables - air temperature, relative humidity, vapour pressure deficit, specific humidity and soil temperature - are investigated across a range of land use types in Borneo, including primary tropical forest, logged forest and oil palm plantation. Strong correlations with the leaf area index are found for the mean daily maximum air and soil temperatures, the mean daily maximum vapour pressure deficit and the mean daily minimum relative humidity. Air beneath canopies with high leaf area index is cooler and has higher relative humidity during the day. Forest microclimate is also found to be less variable for sites with higher leaf area indices. Primary forest is found to be up to 2.5 °C cooler than logged forest and up to 6.5 °C cooler than oil palm plantations. Our results indicate that leaf area index is a useful parameter for predicting the effects of vegetation upon microclimate, which could be used to make small scale climate predictions based on remotely sensed data.
The conversion of natural forest to oil palm plantation is a major current threat to the conservation of biodiversity in South East Asia. Most animal taxa decrease in both species richness and abundance on conversion of forest to oil palm, and there is usually a severe loss of forest species. The extent of loss varies significantly across both different taxa and different microhabitats within the oil palm habitat. The principal driver of this loss in diversity is probably the biological and physical simplification of the habitat, but there is little direct evidence for this. The conservation of forest species requires the preservation of large reserves of intact forest, but we must not lose sight of the importance of conserving biodiversity and ecosystem processes within the oil palm habitat itself. We urgently need to carry out research that will establish whether maintaining diversity supports economically and ecologically important processes. There is some evidence that both landscape and local complexity can have positive impacts on biodiversity in the oil palm habitat. By intelligent manipulation of habitat complexity, it could be possible to enhance not only the number of species that can live in oil palm plantations but also their contribution to the healthy functioning of this exceptionally important and widespread landscape.
Opportunities to conduct large-scale field experiments are rare, but provide a unique opportunity to reveal the complex processes that operate within natural ecosystems. Here, we review the design of existing, large-scale forest fragmentation experiments. Based on this review, we develop a design for the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project, a new forest fragmentation experiment to be located in the lowland tropical forests of Borneo (Sabah, Malaysia). The SAFE Project represents an advance on existing experiments in that it: (i) allows discrimination of the effects of landscape-level forest cover from patch-level processes; (ii) is designed to facilitate the unification of a wide range of data types on ecological patterns and processes that operate over a wide range of spatial scales; (iii) has greater replication than existing experiments; (iv) incorporates an experimental manipulation of riparian corridors; and (v) embeds the experimentally fragmented landscape within a wider gradient of land-use intensity than do existing projects. The SAFE Project represents an opportunity for ecologists across disciplines to participate in a large initiative designed to generate a broad understanding of the ecological impacts of tropical forest modification.
Freshwaters provide valuable habitat and important ecosystem services but are threatened worldwide by habitat loss and degradation. In Southeast Asia, rainforest streams are particularly threatened by logging and conversion to oil palm, but we lack information on the impacts of this on freshwater environmental conditions, and the relative importance of catchment versus riparian-scale disturbance. We studied 16 streams in Sabah, Borneo, including old-growth forest, logged forest, and oil palm sites. We assessed forest quality in riparian zones and across the whole catchment and compared it with stream environmental conditions including water quality, structural complexity, and organic inputs. We found that streams with the highest riparian forest quality were nearly 4 °C cooler, over 20 cm deeper, had over 40% less sand, greater canopy cover, more stored leaf litter, and wider channels than oil palm streams with the lowest riparian forest quality. Other variables were significantly related to catchment-scale forest quality, with streams in the highest quality forest catchments having 40% more bedrock and 20 times more dead wood, along with higher phosphorus, and lower nitrate-N levels compared to streams with the lowest catchment-scale forest quality. Although riparian buffer strips went some way to protecting waterways, they did not maintain fully forest-like stream conditions. In addition, logged forest streams still showed signs of disturbance 10-15 years after selective logging. Our results suggest that maintenance and restoration of buffer strips can help to protect healthy freshwater ecosystems but logging practices and catchment-scale forest management also need to be considered.
Invertebrates are dominant species in primary tropical rainforests, where their abundance and diversity contributes to the functioning and resilience of these globally important ecosystems. However, more than one-third of tropical forests have been logged, with dramatic impacts on rainforest biodiversity that may disrupt key ecosystem processes. We find that the contribution of invertebrates to three ecosystem processes operating at three trophic levels (litter decomposition, seed predation and removal, and invertebrate predation) is reduced by up to one-half following logging. These changes are associated with decreased abundance of key functional groups of termites, ants, beetles and earthworms, and an increase in the abundance of small mammals, amphibians and insectivorous birds in logged relative to primary forest. Our results suggest that ecosystem processes themselves have considerable resilience to logging, but the consistent decline of invertebrate functional importance is indicative of a human-induced shift in how these ecological processes operate in tropical rainforests.
Biodiversity continues to decline in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressures such as habitat destruction, exploitation, pollution and introduction of alien species. Existing global databases of species' threat status or population time series are dominated by charismatic species. The collation of datasets with broad taxonomic and biogeographic extents, and that support computation of a range of biodiversity indicators, is necessary to enable better understanding of historical declines and to project - and avert - future declines. We describe and assess a new database of more than 1.6 million samples from 78 countries representing over 28,000 species, collated from existing spatial comparisons of local-scale biodiversity exposed to different intensities and types of anthropogenic pressures, from terrestrial sites around the world. The database contains measurements taken in 208 (of 814) ecoregions, 13 (of 14) biomes, 25 (of 35) biodiversity hotspots and 16 (of 17) megadiverse countries. The database contains more than 1% of the total number of all species described, and more than 1% of the described species within many taxonomic groups - including flowering plants, gymnosperms, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, lepidopterans and hymenopterans. The dataset, which is still being added to, is therefore already considerably larger and more representative than those used by previous quantitative models of biodiversity trends and responses. The database is being assembled as part of the PREDICTS project (Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems - http://www.predicts.org.uk). We make site-level summary data available alongside this article. The full database will be publicly available in 2015.
The PREDICTS project-Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems (www.predicts.org.uk)-has collated from published studies a large, reasonably representative database of comparable samples of biodiversity from multiple sites that differ in the nature or intensity of human impacts relating to land use. We have used this evidence base to develop global and regional statistical models of how local biodiversity responds to these measures. We describe and make freely available this 2016 release of the database, containing more than 3.2 million records sampled at over 26,000 locations and representing over 47,000 species. We outline how the database can help in answering a range of questions in ecology and conservation biology. To our knowledge, this is the largest and most geographically and taxonomically representative database of spatial comparisons of biodiversity that has been collated to date; it will be useful to researchers and international efforts wishing to model and understand the global status of biodiversity.