Night of the sea kraits
On our last evening Tasneem takes out out for a night safari on the beach to search for sea-kraits. These are beautiful black-and-white banded snakes that hunt eels in the ocean in the daytime, and come out onto the beaches at night to access fresh water, rest in rock crevices (they breathe air) and also in the twisted root systems of the abundant fallen trees, and occasionally to breed. They are highly venomous snakes, but rarely dangerous to humans (apart from when handled) because of their weak bite and placid temperament.
After ten minutes of searching, we come across a tipped tree root system. As my eyes adjust, I realise there are at least ten of these snakes, up to 1-2 m long, writhing through the roots and climbing above our heads, just a metre or two away from us. There are two species, the yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticaudia colubrina) and the rarer blue lipped sea krait (Laticaudia laticaudata), both having a marked flat rudder-like tail. It is a mesmerising if somewhat nightmarish vision, looking up at a gnarled tree root system alive with beautiful venomous snakes.
We walk back pointing out the southern stars and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn , wrapped in the warm breeze that dries our clothes.
Last week I attended a workshop in Bangalore on building forest research networks in India. There is a large amount in impressive forest-related research in India, which could benefit from consolidation and also plugging into global research networks. I was impressed by the positive, collaborative mood of the workshop and the generation of a clear plan to move forward. The meeting was sponsored by the UK-India Education Research Initiative of the British Council, and organised by Swapna Neebali, Jayashree Ratnam and Toby Marthews.
Forests of the Andaman Islands
After a workshop in Bangalore on building forest plot networks in India, I visit the Andaman Islands in the company of my colleagues Toby Marthews and Sam Moore, and our hosts Manesh Sankaran and Jayashree Ratnam, of the Nataional Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore. They have established forest research plots in this islands. We were hosted at the field station of the Andaman and Nicobars Environment Team (ANET) in Wandoor, an absolutely wonderful place to stay with a welcoming, nature-loving and inspiring field staff.
The islands are a revelation. In spite of settlement and deforestation in some areas, they are still around 80% covered by lush tropical forests, ringed by magnificent beaches and coral reefs, and home to some of the most isolated indigenous peoples on Earth. My few days there were just mesmerising.
BACABA field campaign finishes
The BACABA (Biotic Attributes at the Cerrado-Amazonia BoundAry) has finished, collecting tree traits from four sites ranging from Amazonian forests through tall woody cerradão, through shorter cerrado savanna, into open dry campo rupestre (see my earlier post in April for more details) . It's been an excellent collaboration with the staff and students of the State University of Mato Grosso at Nova Xavantina, and will produce some wonderful scientific outputs. Great T-shirts, too!
Living on the edge: quantifying the structure of a fragmented forest landscape in England
We have a new paper in Landscape Ecology led by Terhi Riutta, exploring the fragmented nature of the English woodland landscape. Using data from a focal area in the Upper Thames Basin (including Oxford), it shows that 37% of woodlands are within 30 m distance from a forest edge, and 74% of woodlands are within 100 m from an edge. This matters because edges have very different microclimates and biotic properties - two examples in the paper show that tree water use is much higher in the dry microclimate near forest edges, and populations of forest specialist moths are much lower. If we focus research in cores of relatively large blocks of woodland (such as Wytham near Oxford), we may misunderstand and misrepresent the nature of the ecology and functioning of English woodlands. The same applies to other fragmented woodland landscapes in temperature regions across the world, and increasingly in fragmented tropical forest regions such as in West Africa or Brazil's Atlantic forest.
Riutta T., Slade E.M., Morecroft M.D., Bebber D.P., Malhi Y. (2014) Living on the edge: quantifying the structure of a fragmented forest landscape in England, Landscape Ecology, DOI: 10.1007/s10980-014-0025-z
Application of remote sensing to understanding fire regimes and biomass burning emissions of the tropical Andes
We have a new paper in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, led by Imma Oliveras, exploring the nature and frequency of fires in the high tropical Andes, and their consequence for carbon emissions. The study focuses satellite remote sensing analyses, which in other papers will be combined with ground studies.
In the tropical Andes, there have been very few systematic studies aimed at understanding biomass burning dynamics in the area. This paper seeks to advance on our understanding of burning regimes in this region, with the first detailed and comprehensive assessment of fire occurrence and the derived gross biomass burning emissions of an area of the Peruvian tropical Andes. We selected an area of 2.8 million hectares at altitudes over 2000 m., and analyzed fire occurrence over a 12 year period with three types of satellite data. Fire dynamics showed a large intra-annual and interannual variability, with most fires occurring May–October (the period coinciding with the dry season). Total area burned decreased with increasing rainfall until a given rainfall threshold beyond which no relationship was found. The estimated fire return interval (FRI) for the area is 37 years for grasslands, which is within the range reported for grasslands, and 65 years for forests, which is remarkably shorter than other reported FRI in tropical moist forests. The greatest contribution (60–70%, depending on the data source) to biomass burning emissions came from burned montane cloud forests (4.5 million Mg CO2 over the study period), despite the latter accounting for only 7–10% of the total burned area. Gross aboveground biomass emissions were larger than previously reported for the tropical Andes.
Oliveras, I., L. O. Anderson, and Y. Malhi (2014), Application of remote sensing to understanding fire regimes and biomass burning emissions of the tropical Andes, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 28, doi:10.1002/2013GB004664.
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University