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Published: 2023-10-23

Major grant will put Umeå at the forefront of tropical climate research

NEWS The biodiversity of rainforests is threatened by climate change. Researcher Daniel Metcalfe conducts large-scale experiments to predict the consequences – but was ready to shut down when the funds ran out. Now, he has been awarded a major government grant from Formas to continue and expand the work.

“I was very happy and surprised,” says Daniel Metcalfe about the news that his research project received SEK 14 million from Formas.

That same morning, he had informed the research coordinator in Peru that they might need to shut down due to financial constraints. Thanks to the grant, they can now build up a world-leading center for tropical research.

“It's important to try to understand and predict the impacts of climate change on a biodiversity hotspot like tropical cloud forests,” says Daniel Metcalfe.

Home to thousands of species

Daniel Metcalfe is a professor at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Umeå University. One of his research areas is cloud forests in mountainous regions of rainforests, which are home to thousands of animal and plant species specially adapted to the unusual climate there and found nowhere else. The consequences of climate change, combined with deforestation, could be severe, but the speed and precise nature of any impacts have never been directly tested.

“I designed an experiment to try to get an early view of what might happen. I put up a big curtain, about 30 meters high and 40 meters wide. The idea is that the water particles in the low-lying cloud so typical of the region are partly intercepted by the mesh, making the forest behind a bit drier. Then we compare it to a nearby forest that is unmodified.”

Creating a research platform

The idea for the project started in 2013, and the facility in Peru has been operating for five years. The first results will soon be published. The grant from Formas allows the experiment to continue and also grow with new measurements. Daniel Metcalfe also plans to expand the experiment to other areas in the region with different natural levels of cloud abundance to simulate future scenarios.

The aim is to create an interdisciplinary research platform where scientists, local communities, and policymakers can share data and infrastructure.

“We work, for example, with a local tree planting conservation agency to assess how sensitive species are to climate change. We plan to use the results from our work to determine which of the native species are particularly threatened, and so should be prioritized for conservation efforts,” says Daniel Metcalfe.

About cloud forests

A cloud forest is a high-altitude area in a rainforest where clouds or fog are almost always present at the canopy level. They host a unique biodiversity adapted to abundant airborne moisture with mosses, lichens, and flowers like orchids. Cloud forests also play a crucial role in water regulation and carbon storage.

About Formas

Formas is a government research council for sustainable development that funds high-quality research and innovation within the fields of environment, agricultural industries and spatial planning. Each year, Formas grants over 1.8 billion SEK in funding for various projects.

In this year's call for “Links between climate, water, and biodiversity” a total of ten researchers in Sweden have been granted between 11 and 14 million SEK for project funding.

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