Sensing Forests Directly: The Power of Permanent Plots
The need to measure, monitor, and understand our living planet is greater than ever. Yet, while many technologies are applied to tackle this need, one developed in the 19th century is transforming tropical ecology. Permanent plots, in which forests are directly sensed tree-by-tree and species-by-species, already provide a global public good. They could make greater contributions still by unlocking our potential to understand future ecological change, as the more that computational and remote technologies are deployed the greater the need to ground them with direct observations and the physical, nature-based skills of those who make them. To achieve this requires building profound connections with forests and disadvantaged communities and sustaining these over time. Many of the greatest needs and opportunities in tropical forest science are therefore not to be found in space or in silico, but in vivo, with the people, places and plots who experience nature directly. These are fundamental to understanding the health, predicting the future, and exploring the potential of Earth’s richest ecosystems. Now is the time to invest in the tropical field research communities who make so much possible.