In January 2022, Somerville Junior Research Fellow Dr Jesus Aguirre Gutierrez and Somerville alumna Banashree Thapa (2020, Biodiversity Conservation and Management) embarked on a research expedition to Ghana to learn more about how tropical forests are adapting to a changing climate.

The expedition set out to determine if tropical forests are able to adapt to climate change as part of an ongoing research project that will see Dr Gutierrez visit multiple sites throughout the Tropics, including Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Gabon, Malaysia and Australia.

The project, which is funded by both the Natural Environment Research Council and a John Fell OUP Research Fund, will take censuses of vegetation, plant traits (e.g. leaf characteristics such as nutrients, thickness, area), vegetation structure metrics based on LiDAR remote sensing and spectral reflectance of the canopies via drone flights. The latter images, which are produced by special cameras, will tell the research team about the level of stress in which the trees are located, while floor-level sampling of soil will disentangle the role of the soil biota (fungi/bacteria) in the adaptations of these forests to a changing climate.

Dr Gutierrez was accompanied on the expedition by fellow Somervillian Banashree Thapa (2020, MSc Biodiversity and Conservation), as well as Huanyuan Zhan, a DPhil student at the Ecosystems Lab. 

Speaking of the trip, Dr Gutierrez said, “We managed to map the forests with local collaborators – including Professor Stephen Adu-Bredu from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Ghana (CSIR) and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) – across a tremendous climatic gradient from the Savanna-Tropical forest transition zone in northern Ghana to the wet tropical forest of the southern tip of the country.

“This collaborative research is an important part of the puzzle that will help us decipher the mechanisms of how forests adapt to a changing climate, ‘Dr Gutierrez added. ‘The results will help us identify which forests across Ghana and, later, across the tropics may be more susceptible to change given climate disturbance, with meaningful implications for conservation actions of ecosystem functions (e.g. temperature buffering and carbon capture).”

Want to know more? You can listen Oxford Ecosystem’s interview with Jesus about his work on their website.

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