The Ecology Laboratory is involved primarily with projects that involve monitoring-remote and ground-based- of ecosystems and communities.
Ecological monitoring is the study of the dynamics of and changes in ecosystems and their components. It is an activity that, if it is to be professional and effective, is labor and time intensive. It has many purposes and benefits and may require expertise from many fields of biology and other fields such as chemistry and information science. Ecosystem monitoring activities can help biotechnology by identifying important sources of natural products such as pharmaceutical compounds, and by helping to manage and conserve the ecosystems that produce these. In the process of monitoring activities, new species are often discovered with unusual ecological roles and chemical properties. Such unpredictable discoveries are beginning to be made in the areas under study by BIOTEC researchers.
Monitoring necessarily involves the establishment of “LTERS” or Long Term Ecological Research Sites, where detailed and quantitative measurements can be made and repeated in time in the same places. LTERS may be located in any kind of habitat, terrestrial or aquatic, but they must be permanently marked and precisely mapped. Groups of animals or plants of interest are accurately censused and studied. The research sites monitored by the Ecology Laboratory are located in forest environments, and are also referred to as “Forest Dynamics Plots” because the emphasis is on the complete mapping and inventory of all trees. One important goal of forest dynamics plots is to monitor the diversity of tree species and understand the ecological processes that regulate it. Trees and woody vines are the dominant forms of life and primary producers in the forest, and the study of all other ecological processes and interactions generally begins with a complete tree census.
One of the most important and difficult tasks in any monitoring program, especially in tropical environments, is identification of the organisms. Proper identification requires the preparation of voucher specimens and their storage in accredited museums or herbaria. Without such proper treatment of specimens, the research is not professional and may not be publishable in an international journal. The Ecology Laboratory, in fact, spends a large portion of its effort in collection, preparation and identification of plant specimens from research plots, and does this as a service to all persons carrying out research in them.