ForestGEO and the New Guinea Binatang Research Center (BRC) have established a 50-ha plot in lowland rainforest in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, near the village of Wanang. The project is the first study of carbon dynamics in PNG forests and will enable researchers to assess the response of Pacific forests to global change and understand the ecological processes that sustain healthy forest ecosystems in the Pacific region.
After the Amazon and Congo basins, the island of New Guinea is the third largest tropical forest wilderness in the world, supporting an estimated 5% of global biodiversity on only .5% of the Earth’s land area. The island represents one of the largest tracts of unlogged forest in the Asia-Pacific region. Apart from an abandoned logging road, the area surrounding the 50-ha plot is roadless and populated by fewer than 10 people per square kilometer. Mean annual rainfall is 2,000-4,000 mm, and mean monthly air temperature is ~26C. The forest is diverse and structurally complex with numerous woody vines and a 40-60 m canopy. The vegetation has been classified as mixed evergreen hill forest. Soils are latosols.
Conditions that today make the plot possible originated in 2000, when eleven clans from the village of Wanang signed a conservation deed among themselves to protect over 10,000 ha of their forest from logging. Their agreement resulted in the legal establishment of the Wanang Conservation Area, which ensures protection of their forest and subsistence livelihoods. However, it also eliminates a significant source of income for education and health care that the foregone logging would have provided. In a creative effort to make up for the loss of such an important source of income, Wanang landowners approached BRC in 2001 and expressed interest in assisting with biological research. They have since received scientific training, employment as field assistants for insect studies, and compensation for lease of their forest from three consecutive grants from the US National Science Foundation.
Support for the 50-ha plot comes from John Swire & Sons (PNG) Ltd. and Steamships Trading Co. Ltd., the Czech Academy of Sciences, the University of South Bohemia, and the National Science Foundation of the USA. Their support is enabling CTFS to build on the Wanang community’s experience as field assistants at BRC and employ their local expertise and conservation commitment to help establish the new plot. In addition to funding the site and a new research station, Swire and Steamships will sponsor postgraduate fellowships to help build PNG’s science capacity in the areas of forests and climate change.
In addition to BRC, ForestGEO’s other partners at Wanang include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Universities of Minnesota and Papua New Guinea, multiple PNG government agencies, and WWF.