In the run up to Rio+20, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) today announce a major £9·6m investment to investigate how changes to tropical forests affect biodiversity, ecosystem services and the climate.
Evidence unearthed during the project will be used to help sustainably manage forests for logging and palm oil production, protect endangered species, and help mitigate climate change.
The initiative is the next phase in a growing partnership between NERC and FAPESP.
The scheme also supports the overarching aim of the Rio+20 summit - starting on 20 June 2012 - to provide a blueprint for global sustainable development.
NERC is investing £8m, £6·4m of which will support research in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo and builds on an existing collaboration with the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project, which is managed as part of the Royal Society's South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP). The rest - £1·6m - will back parallel studies in Brazil, with FAPESP contributing the equivalent of £1·6m.
"This collaboration between NERC and FAPESP will mean the UK's and Brazil's top scientists can work together to understand globally-important Brazilian ecosystems and compare research findings between two contrasting tropical regions - Brazil and Malaysia," explains Professor Duncan Wingham, Chief Executive of NERC.
"It is fitting to announce this collaboration for advanced environmental research on the eve of Rio+20. The research to be supported will inform policy decisions of governments, forest management and the agro-forestry industry. For Brazil and for the UN REDD+ programme biodiversity conservation and the understanding and adequate management of forest carbon stocks are key issues," says Professor Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Scientific Director of FAPESP.
Tropical forests are hotspots of biodiversity and provide ecosystem services such as clean water and air, medicines and food, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide. These services extend beyond the countries hosting forests, benefiting people across the world.
But many forests, like those in South East Asia and Brazil, are increasingly under threat from unsustainable logging and conversion to agricultural land uses. This is leading to biodiversity loss and deterioration of ecosystem services.
"Despite this, very little is known about the relationships between biodiversity and the ecosystem processes that underpin these vital services, or how these processes change through biodiversity loss," says Professor Wingham.
Scientists plan to find out how logging, deforestation and forest fragmentation change the functioning of tropical rainforests.
"It's vital we find out what levels of biodiversity we must have in order to provide the ecosystem services that society needs. Research in both Brazil and Malaysia will help us compare these issues in contrasting locations, so we can develop forest management policies that can be applied to different types of forest," says Professor Ken Norris from the University of Reading, NERC's biodiversity theme leader.
The NERC programme is called Biodiversity & Ecosystem Processes in Human Modified Tropical Forests.