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Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network

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Tropical ecosystems are the biologically richest places on the planet, yet what we know about them comes from scientific studies so specialized that the studies rarely make the local news. “Most ecological studies last fewer than five years at a single study site, with measurements focused on an area of only ten meters squared,” explains Sandy Andelman, Vice President of Conservation International for the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) network. “Ecology needs to scale up to address global climate change and other environmental threats.”

Scaling up to global proportions is precisely what TEAM was created to do. This ambitious initiative is devoted to monitoring long-term trends in biodiversity and is establishing networks of tropical field stations and standardized methods of data collection so that scientists anywhere on Earth can quantify at the pace at which we are saving tropical ecosystems. TEAM is an early warning system for nature, akin to the USArray system of broadband sensors that track seismic activity at a continental scale to warn of impending earthquakes.

The idea behind TEAM is deceptively simple: to measure and compare plants, insects, frogs, birds, monkeys, and other life forms living in a range of environments, from relatively pristine places to those most affected by people.

The idea that human encroachment affects biodiversity in a negative way is self-evident. For instance, everyone knows that deforestation is a global crisis, but simply increasing the area of forests protected by reserves won’t necessarily solve the problem, particularly given what we now know about climate change. Climate change forces adjustments to wildlife ranges. It alters the transmission rates of disease. It might affect the timing or length of the seasons or the annual distribution of rainfall. Scientists have little quantitative data about how animals and plants are responding to these environmental perturbations, especially in the tropics.

The TEAM network is creating a new culture of ecology. The traditional portrayal of ecological study, in which a scientist at one site builds a career on the data from that site, has less relevance in today’s world, where the environmental threats caused by people happen within large spatial and temporal scales—magnitudes too large for a single scientist at one site to comprehend. In a major departure from standard practice among ecologists, TEAM is making all of the network data universally available.

The first cohort of TEAM sites operates in five tropical forest locations across the neotropics. Tropical forests received first billing because of their overwhelming significance to the global biosphere (e.g., their disproportionately large role in global carbon and energy cycles) and because of the extraordinary threats they face. About 50 percent of the species described on Earth, and an even larger proportion of species not yet described, occur in tropical forests. The program’s next phase of development will extend the network into Africa and Asia.

[Summary provided by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) network.]
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