Impact of Declining Animal Populations on Tropical Forests (2021-2022)

Tropical forests are one of Earth’s best defenses against rising CO2 levels. They act as a major carbon sink, absorbing 25-33 percent of atmospheric carbon emissions. Nearly half of aboveground carbon (AGC) is accumulated in the largest trees, making tropical forests an important resource for carbon storage. However, human activities reduce their size and transform them into a source of emissions, particularly through logging, burning and hunting.

Large vertebrates impact ecological processes and alter forest structure and composition but human interference threatens these animals' habitats. For example, extinction of forest elephants alone is estimated to decrease AGC by seven percent in central African forests. Globally, loss of terrestrial vertebrates, known as defaunation, is occurring at an unprecedented rate. 

This project team investigated how declining animal populations impact carbon stocks in tropical forests. Focusing on the effects of defaunation on forest carbon stocks and ecosystem services in the Ivindo National Park, Gabon, team members tagged, identified and measured plants in order to determine aboveground biomass (AGB) and genus richness. They also interviewed 66 adults in nine villages about the significance and use of different tree parts, such as fruit, bark and wood.

Through the collection and analysis of data from ecological and social surveys, the team was able to highlight changes in forest structure along a defaunation gradient and demonstrate the importance of several tree species and their parts to local communities. Further research over longer time scales is needed to better understand the long-term effects of defaunation on tropical forests and the communities that rely on them.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

Team Outputs

How Ecosystems and Communities Interact in the Tropical Forests of Gabon (2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Effects of Defaunation on Tropical Forest Ecosystem Services (poster by Enikoe Bihari, Christina Boxberger, Camille DeSisto, Sara Haas, Maiya Hayes, Courtney Horn, Aubrey Knier, Jessica Lipschultz, Vincent Maicher, Halina Malinowski, Sari Palmroth, Tyler Pelletier, John Poulsen and Laura Toledo, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 13, 2022)


Halina Malinowski

This Team in the News

Meet the Members of the 2021-2022 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Summer Spotlights: How Four Ph.D. Students Advanced Their Research

Summer Research Snapshots 2021


Image: Waterfall in Ivindo National Park, Gabon, by Jefe Le Gran, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Waterfall in Ivindo National Park.

Team Leaders

  • Vincent Maicher, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Halina Malinowski, Nicholas School of the Environment–Ph.D. Student
  • Sari Palmroth, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • John Poulsen, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/graduate Team Members

  • Enikoe Bihari, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation, Forest Resource Management-MF
  • Camille DeSisto, Ecology-PHD
  • Courtney Horn, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation
  • Aubrey Knier, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation
  • Laura Toledo, Community Based Environmental, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Christina Boxberger, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Sara Haas, Biology (BS)
  • Maiya Hayes, Civil Engineering (BSE)
  • Jessica Lipschultz, Biology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Justin Wright, Arts & Sciences-Biology

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Gabon Parks Agency
  • Research Institute of Tropical Ecology
  • Omar Bongo University