Max Planck Gesellschaft

Module Tropical Forest Ecology (Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg)

Syllabus Tropical forests play an important socioeconomic, ecological and environmental role on local, regional and global scales. They are a source of genetic diversity offering various medicinal plants, high productive fruiting plants, valuable timber and numerous other forest products. Containing about half of Earth’s species, tropical forests provide habitat for many migratory animals and are home for diverse indigenous cultures. Tropical forests have an important function within the world’s climate as they are one of the main drivers in the global hydrological and carbon cycles. Furthermore, tropical forests are considered a buffer for global climate change as they store vast amounts of carbon.

The functionality of these forests depends largely on their health and vitality and they can only continue to function either in a natural undisturbed state or when managed sustainably. In all tropical regions, deforestation continues at an alarmingly high rate and in some regions only small fraction of the original area remains today. Appropriate conservation and sustainable management strategies are missing, partly due to the high complexity of these ecosystems. Studying the ecology of tropical forests, we can begin to understand and explain this complexity and set strategies to conserve these valuable forests for future generations.

During this course, the main ecological characteristics of tropical forests will be discussed: definition of tropical forests; different tropical forest types; soils and climate; biogeochemical cycles; biodiversity and coevolution. It will also provide an assessment of current threats to tropical forests such as deforestation and habitat fragmentation, conservation strategies and restoration of tropical forests. The goal of the course is to understand basic ecological concepts in tropical forests, to identify gaps in our current knowledge on tropical forest ecology and to find applications of the ecological knowledge in tropical silvicultural and forest management systems. The preparation of an oral presentation and the term paper by the students at the end of the course is ensuring that the students learn and practice how to approach ecological questions and find solutions by themselves and learn to present their ideas orally and in a written report.

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