Projects

Where do we work?  -

 

Photo: Matti Barthel

The Congo Basin Rainforest is the second largest rainforest in the world covering an area of 3.7 million square kilometres. However, due to political instability and infrastructure, this vast forest ecosystem was mainly inaccessible for environmental scientist. Thus, it remains a blank spot concerning its role in global biogeochemistry, despite representing one of the most important terrestrial ecosystems in the world.

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Photo: Matti Barthel

Information about chemical and physical soil properties is not only crucial for an efficient and sustainable agricultural production, but also to understand nutrient cycles and fluxes. Compared to wet chemistry analyses of soil samples, infrared (IR) spectroscopy allows faster, less expensive, environmental-friendly, non-destructive, reproducible results which also cover spatial heterogeneity.

 
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Photo: Robert Spencer

Carbon exported from terrestrial ecosystems as organic matter or dissolved inorganic gases represents an important component of the global carbon cycle by returning photosynthetically fixed C to the atmosphere and/or transporting it to downstream ecosystems and the ocean. Over the past decade, the estimated quantity of C transferred from land to aquatic systems has grown substantially, largely due to the better modelling of vertical CO2 losses from outgassing. As the estimates for lateral loses of C to aquatic ecosystems grow, the terrestrial sink for C must decrease or be adjusted to balance the C budget.

 
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Photo: Kristof Van Oost

Tropical forests play an important role in the global carbon balance, assimilating over a third of the global terrestrial gross primary production [1]. They represent a significant CO2 sink [2] and maintaining this function requires a large and sustained supply of nitrogen (N) [3]. This implies that an understanding of how N losses from tropical soils constrain plant growth and carbon (C) sequestration is critical to assess current and future productivity of tropical forest ecosystems. [4-5]. Despite its importance, a quantified understanding of the different N loss pathways is lacking (ref) [3,6-7].

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Photo: Kristof Van Oost

Termites are one of the dominant groups of soil macrofauna in the tropics. They play a central role in the functioning of these ecosystems by regulating the distribution of natural resources such as water and nutrients. Through their trophic, construction and drilling activities, these tropical ecosystem engineers greatly influence the biological, chemical, mineralogical and physical properties of tropical soils.

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Photo: Matti Barthel

This study is carried out in the western (DRC) and eastern  (Rwanda and its surrounding) part of Lake Kivu region, located in the humid tropical zone; in the Kivu Highlands region, between 1460 m at the outlet (Lake Kivu) and over 2500 m altitude at the highest point. Accelerated soil erosion is a serious problem in this particular region and the world, with high economic and environmental impacts. Many human activities, such as mining, uncontrolled construction, and agricultural activities, disrupt watersheds and cause erosion. Across the world, land affected by soil degradation due to erosion is estimated at 1100 million ha by water erosion and 550 million ha by wind erosion.

 
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Photo: Isaac Makelele

Within this project we want to continue and further specify our research, education and outreach efforts on long-term biogeochemical monitoring of Congo Basin forest. We hypothesise that future stability of Congolese forests will largely depend on how these forests will respond to possible changes in nutrient and hydrological cycles. Improved understanding of nutrient and water availability greatly improves carbon cycle modelling, which allows a much better estimation of current and future C sequestration, which still is a key ecosystem service of tropical forests.

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Photo: Isaac Makelele

This project aims at understanding the biogeochemical interactions along tropical regrowth trajectories. The study focusses on how land-use history and atmospheric phosphorus (P) input control the integration of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and P cycling in African regrowth forests. We want to merge longer-term monitoring efforts on N and C cycling with the P-cycle along well-documented sites in the central Congo basin, and will result in the first study that integrates C-N-P cycling along regrowth trajectories in the Congo Basin. This is important for a future where secondary forests are becoming more abundant than primary forests in the tropics.

Photo: Marijn Bauters

The "Yangambi, scientific pole at the service of man and forests" (YPS) project was identified and formulated in a participatory way in August 2012. CIFOR, which implements the FORETS project "Training, Research, Environment in Tshopo" is the international organization responsible for the implementation of the YPS project. This project will be managed by a delegated co-operation of Belgium and implemented by the European Union. It will strengthen sustainable participatory management of the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve and implement the very first accurate and continuous monitoring of atmosphere-ecosystem exchange of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in the Congo Basin forest.

 

Photo: Florian Wilken

Tropical Africa is a hotspot of both climate and land use change. The region faces growing population, deforestation of primary forests and degradation of soils due to erosion. Hence, tropical Africa is expected to experience important changes to both soil biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem level nutrient and greenhouse gas fluxes between soil, plants and the atmosphere in this century. Two goals, often contradictory, have to be matched: Storing C in soils to combat climate change and increasing plant yields and soil productivity under subsistence farming and with limited availability of industrial fertilizers for food production.