dr. MT (Masha) van der Sande

dr. MT (Masha) van der Sande


Tropical forests are of global importance, among others for maintaining biodiversity and for storing and sequestering carbon. I am a postdoctoral researcher interested in past, present and future functioning of these tropical forests. I am employed at Wageningen University to work within the "2ndFOR" network (on "Resilience of tropical secondary forests"), and through my Rubicon grant at the University of Amsterdam and seconded to Florida Institute of Technology (on "LONCHIT: Linking the Old and New to reveal Climate and Human Impacts on Tropical forests").


Resilience of tropical secondary forests

Secondary tropical forests cover large areas and have great potential to recover biodiversity, carbon, and other ecosystem functions. The key challenge is to understand the resilience of these forests, and how this depends on forest attributes and environmental and anthropogenic drivers from local to continental spatial scales. As part of my position at Wageningen University, I work within the secondary Neotropical forest network "2ndFOR". This network combines almost 60 sites that evaluate forest recovery using chronosequences. Most sites have, however, poor quantification of the soil conditions, and a limited description of historical land use. My role in this project is to coordinate the collection and analyses of soil samples and land-use history (through interviews and remote sensing) for as many sites as possible. Using this information, we can better understand how i) soil recovers during forest regrowth, ii) how soil conditions influence forest regrowth, and iii) how land-use history determines the coarse of forest succession. This information will help to understand the context-dependence of forest recovery and, hence, recovery of ecosystem functions.


LONCHIT: Linking the Old and New to reveal Climate and Human Impacts on Tropical forests

Tropical forests are not in steady state but are shifting in species composition, possibly due to changes in climate and human influence. This may have large consequences for their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. A better understanding of forest responses can be obtained from evaluating shifts in the trait values of the tree species in the forest, as these shifts depend on underlying environmental changes. However, the power of empirical studies is limited by their short timescale. In my Rubicon (NWO-funded postdoctoral grant) project, I collaborate with Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Amsterdam to apply the functional trait approach to fossil pollen records that reveal millennia-scale vegetation dynamics. Using this approach, we will evaluate long-term shifts in trait composition and possible underlying drivers of change – climate change and human activities. Applying such a functional approach on pollen data can significantly advance our understanding of drivers and trajectories of past, present and future forest composition, biodiversity and carbon sequestration.