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The Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS)


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Plant diversity
at Bukit Timah
Nature Reserve
Photo by Shawn Lum

These brightly coloured
 forest nutmegs attract
 birds like the hornbills
 which help to disperse
the seeds
Photo by Ayesha Ercelawn

Field researcher Kai Li
 measuring a  tree
 sapling at the plot
Photo by Shawn Lum

Kai Li and Mislia
 collecting data
Photo by Shawn Lum

(a) About the CTFS 

The Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) is an administrative unit of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) that joins together – through formal memoranda – a voluntary association of natural and social scientists and institutions around the world.  The mission of CTFS is to promote and coordinate long-term biological and socio-economic research within tropical forests and forest-dependent communities, and translate this information into result relevant to forest management, conservation, and natural resource policies.

To achieve its objectives, natural and social scientists associated with CTFS work with foreign collaborators in forestry departments and universities to develop a network of long-term forest research sites.  The primary involvement of CTFS is to coordinate and standardize research at different sites.  CTFS also provide technical assistance and training to the extent needed at each site.

(b) The NIE-CTFS Memorandum of Understanding

NIE and CTFS have a Memorandum of Understanding to undertake vigorous collaboration on research, educational, and administrative activities on Singapore’s forests.  Through this collaboration, NIE and CTFS established a 2-ha Forest Dynamics Plot within the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in eastern Singapore.  The first plot census was carried out in 1993 by Dr James LaFrankie (CTFS) AND Assoc Prof Lee Sing Kong (NIE).  In 1995, 14,629 individual trees comprising 312 species and 60 families were recensused within this plot.  The recensus was supervised by Ms Ayesha Ercelawn, and NIE-based MSc research project.  The administrative base for the NIE-CTFS collaboration is centred at the office of Dr I-Fang, CTFS Asia Program Coordinator, at the National Institute of Education.

(c) Year 2003 NIE-CTFS Bukit Timah Re-census Project

This Bukit Timah recensus has the following objectives: 

  • to conduct a recensus of the existing 2-hectare plot at Bukit Timah (this will be the fourth census)
  • to extend the area to be monitored by adding an additional 2-hectares in mature secondary forest (the present plot is situated in primary forest, and abuts secondary forest only at its lowermost boundary)
  • to initiate ancillary projects related to forest fragmentation: seed dispersal and predation rates, pollinator activity, pathogen and herbivore activity levels, and population genetics (fine-scale genetic structure, gene flow, paternity analysis of seedlings and saplings) – all data will be compared with those from larger forests

(d) Research Team

Dr Shawn Lum (Co-Principal Investigator)
Dr James Lafrankie (Co-Principal Investigator)
Dr Stuart Davies (Research Scientist)
Dr I-Fang (Research Scientist)
Dr Lee Sing Kong (Research Scientist)
Ms Siti Khadijah Rambe (Research Assistant)
Ms Wang Luan Keng (Research Assistant)

(e) Importance of NIE-CTFS Collaboration to Education

The CTFS-NIE collaboration has been particularly significant from an educational perspective.  The National Institute of Education is Singapore’s primary teacher-training center; every teacher in Singapore’s school passes through its doors.  Faculty members at the former Division of Biology, and the Nature Science Academic Group regularly take future teachers to the 2-ha plot to acquaint them with the forest flora and ecology, as well as to illustrate the value of long-term research and the need to understand the dynamics of the Bukit Timah forest, arguably Singapore’s most important nature reserve.


World-wide network for long-term forest research

The CTFS network of long-term forest research program will soon be tracking three million individuals of approximately 6,000 tree species throughout the world’s tropics.  CTFS has initiated  collaborated reseach programs in Pasoh Forest Reserve (peninsular Malaysia), Lambir Hills National Park (Sarawak, Malaysia), Sinharaja World Heritage Site (Sri Lanka), Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sancturay (Thailand), Doi Inthanon National Park (Thailand), Khao Ban Tat Wildlife Sactuary (Thailand), Khao Yai National Park (Thailand), Nanjenshan Nature Reserve (Taiwan), Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (India), Palanan Wilderness Area (Philippines), Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (Singapore), Ituri Forest/Okapi Faunal Reserve (Democratic Republic of Congo), Korup National Park (Cameroon), Barro Corolado Island (Panama), Luquillo Experimental Forest (Puerto Rico, USA), Yasuni National Park (Ecuador), La Planada Reserve (Colombia), and Chiquibul Forest (Belize).

Where are we now?

There are two main regional programs under CTFS, stationed in Singapoe and Panama, respectively.  The regional office of CTFS-Asia is hosted by National Institute of Education of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, opened in 1993, in concert with establishing the Bukit Timah LTER project.  The office of CTFS-Latin America, which resides in STRI headquarters in Panama, has thrown their energy on the premier tropical forest research site on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), which has been studied since 1924.  More than 2000 scientific articles have documented the workings of that rain forest.  The Latin America Center has been a successful demographic Center for LTER sites around the world.

Our work

CTFS has two broad objectives: 

  1. Building a network. To overcome the shortcomings of  continuity, sustained focus, and comparability in the past studies, a network of Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites using strictly comparable methods and supported through international collaboration is needed.

    A unifying research tool shared by all CTFS research sites is the forest dynamics plot.  These are large (up to 52-hectares), permanent forest demographic plots that are situated in natural forests.  All trees with a diameter of one centimeter or greater are mapped and monitored.  An initial census and periodic recensuses yield long-term information on species growth, mortality, regeneration, distribution, and productivity in relation to topography, hydrology, soils, climates, and biotic factors.  The plots, due to their large size, are capable of dealing with the high tree diversity of tropical forest.
  2. Research Agenda. CTFS expects to us the network of sites to advance two reseach agenda:
    1. the sustainable forest initiative, which combined the social, economic and  biological research conducted at CTFS sites to better inform policy makers of the economic value of tropical forests, and to develop forest management tools by which conflicting values can be optimally balanced.
    2. the rain forest ecology initiative, which aims at a fundamental reassessment of the workings of the tropical rain forest.

The goals of the Asian center

Most of the activities of CTFS-Asia are focused on the several long-terms research sites, where we work with the primary research agencies to conduct studies, build herbaria, install computer facilities, and set up weather- monitoring equipment.  We also help them to host seminars and workshops and provide travel tours and training sessions for their staff.  To greatly advance the overall program in each site, we expect the Center to be:

  1. a center for research in forest science : a library for comparative ecological studies, research fellowship, and technical facilities.
  2. a center for education that host technical workshops, and formal courses, fellowship for needy students, a place where scientist working on Asian forest come together.
  3. a center from which to conduct a model Forest Research Program which can provide regional leadership through example.


CTFS received major support from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1991 in order to promote closer cooperation between Participating programs.  The CTFS Asia program has received significant core Support from Rockefeller Foundation, the John Merck Fund and STRI. Significant in-kind support is also contributed by CTFS partners in project around the world.  Many othe donors, too numerous to mention here, have provided support to individual CTFS research programs. For more information about CTFS, please visit our web site at: