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Wake Forest biologist receives grant to study imperiled tropical cloud forests

August 30, 2006

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded an $834,375 grant to Wake Forest University biologist Miles Silman to study the effects of climate change and fire on plant biodiversity and ecosystem function on the eastern slope of South America’s Andes Mountains.

The grant funds Silman and scientists from Edinburgh University, Florida Institute of Technology, Oxford University and UCLA to conduct research in the Tropical Andes, the most diverse of the world’s 25 Biodiversity Hotspots.

“Future scenarios of climate change for this area — even the most hopeful — are so rapid that they present unprecedented challenges to plants and ecosystems on the Andean slope,” said Silman, associate professor of biology. “These climate changes are predicted to occur not over hundreds or thousands of years as they have in the past, but rather decades.”

Silman’s goal is to answer key questions about biodiversity and the responses of ecosystems to climate change, particulary the effects of climate on setting species ranges, as well as fundamental ecosystem processes such as carbon storage and nutrient cycling. “We’re going to use the record of how the plants and ecosystems responded to past climate change to help us understand what will happen in the future,” Silman said.

The research will provide the foundation for developing conservation strategies for the area by identifying priority areas for conservation. One of the key variables in high Andean forests is the effects of climate change on the frequency of human-caused fire, which sets the upper limit to species migration.

For 16 years, Silman has studied forest ecology in the western Amazon and the Andes. Each summer, he takes Wake Forest undergraduate and graduate students to Peru to study tropical biodiversity.

Established in September 2000, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation seeks to develop outcome-based projects that will improve the quality of life for future generations. The Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative’s (AAI) main goal is to ensure the long-term ecological viability of the Basin and the conservation of its aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. The AAI currently finances conservation work through a number of local and international nongovernmental conservation organizations, research and academic institutions and government agencies.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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