PERREAULT Magazine SEPT | OCT 2016 - Page 72

Perreault Magazine - 72 -

UCLA’s Dr. Thomas Smith founded the Center for Tropical Research in 1997 to better understand and address these environmental challenges, particularly within Cameroon’s Congo Basin Rainforest, the world’s second largest rainforest. Smith and his colleagues work to bridge the siloes that exist between the research community and the government. He found that much of the ecology and biodiversity research being conducted was not reaching the decision makers. Thus, the Center was established to bridge that gap and bring the best possible research to the region in order to make informed decisions to influence rainforest preservation. Smith and his colleagues at the Center for Tropical Research are at the frontlines of the world’s conservation efforts, conducting cutting-edge research and deploying novel approaches to preserving biodiversity and conserving plant and animal species within the most vulnerable regions on earth.

For many years, environmental scientists have been intensely focused on conservation in ‘biodiversity hotspots’, geographical regions that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Biodiversity hotspots are easily identifiable classifications, such as rainforest or tropical savannah. But what about the regions that don’t fall within those classifications, and more importantly, who is protecting the species that don’t inhabit the biodiversity hotspots? When it comes to these gradient ecosystems, or ecotones as they’re called, conservation and protection efforts have essentially been neglected.

Cameroon has some of the greatest biodiversity in Africa, and that includes some of the rarest animals on the planet. There’s just tremendous discoveries to be made.” –Dr. Thomas Smith

In the 1990s, Smith began conducting research on a small bird in the Congo Basin Rainforest called the little greenbul, a relatively plain and uninteresting bird among its rainforest dwelling counterparts. He and his colleagues examined the greenbul in varying habitats, *ecotones among them. What they discovered was groundbreaking for evolutionary and environmental science.