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Forest Ecology

Four decades ago, two young Smithsonian forest ecologists decided that tropical forests were too rich in species to study with traditional small forest plots. They tagged, identified and mapped some 240,000 trees on a 50-hectare plot of old growth forest on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal. Subsequent censuses every five years have revealed how radically tropical forests change over time — in terms of species richness and distribution — and created an essential long-term dataset to address questions of environmental change. The Panama plot and its standardized methodologies inspired the Smithsonian ForestGEO network, which today includes more than 60 forest plots around the globe.

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