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Landscape Patterns of Diversity, Wood Density, and Protected Areas in Forests of Costa Rica


Costa Rica harbors high levels of biodiversity and endemism. While Costa Rica does tend to have good conservation policies in place, understanding the patterns of plant diversity and biomass can allow for better management priorities. Current technologies utilizing spaceborne or airborne remotely sensed imagery could be very useful to study terrestrial processes and allow for better monitoring of patterns of forests, both spatially and temporally.

Improvements in relating forest structure in highly complex and diverse forest environments to plant diversity are critical to the science goals of the UN-REDD+ program as well as for tropical forest research in general. The scope of the proposed dissertation will cover six chapters across distinct but interrelated topics concerning the forest of Costa Rica, which seeks to improve the existing methodologies and compare results to other datasets. Ideally, this research will be applicable to other tropical environments with both field-collected tree inventory data and appropriate remote sensing products. After the introductory chapters, I focus in on the National Park of Braulio Carrillo for Chapters 3 and 4, then scale up to the entirety of the country of Costa Rica to look at sixteen years of forest change. The first chapter introduces the importance of understanding tropical forest diversity, biomass, and carbon dynamics, as well as some specific to the country of Costa Rica. The second chapter outlines the specific study area covered in Chapters 3 and 4 within Costa Rica’s Braulio Carrillo National Park (BCNP), which protects a large elevational gradient from 55 to 2814 m above sea level, and the adjacent La Selva Biological Station (LSBS). In addition, this study area chapter also discusses the country of Costa Rica in general, specifically in terms of forest policies and protection. Chapter 4 analyzes wood density from 29 stand-dominant collected along the BCNP elevational gradient. The patterns of species wood density and aboveground biomass from field measured (tree cores) and database wood density values were assessed to examine how wood density and biomass are affected by changing elevations, both intraspecifically and at the stand-level. Chapter 5 scales the remote sensing analysis up to entirety of the country of Costa Rica. In this chapter, I assess the spatial patterns driving deforestation and afforestation across Costa Rica and protected areas. Forest loss and gains within the country for the years of 2000-2016 at 30 m spatial resolution were calculated, and we tested whether protected areas (PAs) indeed had less forest loss than non-protected areas. Chapter 6 concludes the dissertation with the general state of the forest in Costa Rica based on the research from the preceding chapters and suggests possibilities for future research utilizing new remote sensing and GIS technologies.

The scope of this Ph.D. dissertation spans a range of topics from field ecological questions to extrapolation mapping and quantitative ecology. The topics covered are temporally relevant and will directly address important goals outlined in UN-REDD+ scientific plans. Developing an understanding of diversity and successional stages both within and outside of protected areas may give us some insight on how to best manage tropical montane systems and may aid in developing conservation priorities, particularly in the face of climate change.

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