The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Frank Sterck to professor holding a personal chair in the Forest Ecology and Forest Management chair group from 1 January 2022. He used to climb to the top of the highest trees to study the canopy of tropical forests; now he leads a partnership of scientists and forest managers who are working on climate-smart forest management.
Frank Sterck’s fascination with nature began when he was just a child. In 1982, he therefore decided to study Biology at Wageningen University. This is where he started to study trees; from the dry Sahel in Mali to rainforests and mangroves in Gabon.
Climbing to the canopy
“In 1989, I did a spectacular canopy raft expedition in French Guyana, during which we climbed across the highest tree tops of a tropical forest,” says Sterck. “This inspired me to choose a PhD in French Guyana (1992-1997), where I climbed trees to study the physiology and dynamics of tree crowns.”
During his postdoc studies (1998-2002), he developed tree models to better understand the differences between tree species in growth and survival through underlying plant characteristics and physiology. He tested theoretical model predictions with field observations of tropical trees in rainforests in Bolivia, Mexico, and Malaysia.
In 2002, Frank returned to Wageningen and expanded on this line of research. His research was focused on the intersection of climate change and tropical (Ethiopia, Panama, Brazil, and China) and temperate forests (Europe, China). He recently started a large-scale forest experiment to better calibrate forest management to the responses of trees and soil to increased drought.
At the moment, Frank leads a partnership of scientists and forest managers who collect data in this forest experiment and who develop forest models to use the new insights for the creation of ‘climate-smart’ forests. This work is a unique test case for increasing the productivity, resilience, biodiversity, and/or carbon storage of forests in the context of ongoing climate change.