Field exercise for student groups studying canopy tree fruiting patterns at BFREE
Author: Dr. Stewart Skeate, Lees-McRae College, Banner Elk, NC
As part of BFREE’s initiative to enhance field experiences for student groups, members of the education committee have designed field exercises focused on different aspects of tropical ecology, including a small mammals biodiversity survey and this study, an investigation of the timing of fruit production in canopy trees. As fruit is a major food resource for numerous seed dispersing birds and mammals, timing of fruiting is critical to understanding the complex relationship between plants and animals in tropical communities.
This study will also familiarize students to tropical tree identification and tropical plant communities. This study and the small mammal survey are located in two plots, a managed cacao plantation and an unmanaged forest habitat. These studies strive to produce a better understanding of the ecological differences between cacao and unmanaged forest habitats. Because these projects are focused on the comparison of agroecosystems to natural habitats, they will also serve as a good example to students of the importance of integrating human needs and concerns in the disciplines of ecology and conservation biology.
Principal Ecological Questions Addressed: Do forest trees at BFREE show seasonal fruiting pattern? Do differences in tree diversity and fruiting phenology exist between the rustic cacao and the nearby tropical broadleaf forest habitat.
Upon completion of this experiment, students should:
1. Be familiar with tropical tree identification
2. Be familiar with observation techniques for determination of tropical tree flowering and fruiting.
3. Be able to understand the ecological ramifications of fruit production and dispersal systems in tropical forest communities.
Required Class Time
Each plot takes approximately 2 hours to survey the tagged trees for fruit. One 2-hour class period can be used for analysis and interpretation of the results. Alternatively, the analysis and interpretation could be assigned as homework.
Literature Cited and Additional Recommended Readings
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Cardoso, F.C.G., Marques, R. & Botosso, P.C. & Marques, M.C.M. 2012. Stem growth and phenology of two tropical trees in contrasting soil conditions. Plant Soil 354:269–281
Chapman, C. A., Chapman, L. J., Struhsaker, T. T., Zanne, A. E., Clark, C. J., & Poulsen, J. R. 2005. A long-term evaluation of fruiting phenology: Importance of climate change. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 21(1), 31-45
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