Collaborative Research: Do Ecological Feedbacks Across Trophic Levels Affect Alternate Stable States and Restoration of Tropical Forests?

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National Science Foundation
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Area/s of Research
Ecology and Evolution

Objectives: (1) Advance an understanding of alternative stable state theory as it applies to terrestrial ecosystems and restoration; (2) Evaluate how ecosystem condition is affected by priority effects, multiple feedbacks and the presence/loss of key species; and (3) Determine whether all feedbacks must be addressed simultaneously, or whether manipulation of individual state variables can drive change. Methods: The proposed research evaluates potential feedbacks constraining recovery of degraded Hawaiian mesic forest ecosystems focusing on avian seed dispersers, overstory and understory plant litter, and mycorrhizal fungi. It proposes intensive sampling of sites to understand relationships between birds, litter, and mycorrhizae and natural forest regeneration. It then tests interactions between these factors using a manipulative field experiment, greenhouse feedback experiments, and individual-based models to evaluate whether all factors must be addressed simultaneously for natural ecosystem recovery to proceed, or whether a subset of factors can be prioritized to achieve the same goal.