dr. MT (Masha) van der Sande

dr. MT (Masha) van der Sande

Postdoctoral researcher

Tropical forests are of global importance, among others for maintaining biodiversity and for storing and sequestering carbon. Unfortunately, tropical forests face increasing treaths, such as climate change, forest fires, and deforestation. I am interested in understanding forest resilience to such disturbances. My core research focuses on two

Fire and drought resilience of tropical forests

Across the Amazon, up to half of the total forest loss is caused by fires. These fire events often co-occur with drought and can lead to massive forest dieback. In my Veni project, I assess the mechanisms underlying resilience of tropical tree species and forest communities to droughts and fires. I do this by focusing on plant functional traits that are related to plant performance and can explain differences between species in their resistance to fire and drought disturbances and their capacity to recovery. 

My research focuses both on small spatial an organizational scales, by assessing species-level mechanisms, and on community-level and Amazon-level spatial scales, by using plot network data across the Amazon basin. Furthermore, I work at short temoral scales (up to decades) using permanent plot networks and long temporal scales (100s-1000s years) using fossil pollen and charcaol records. For the latter, I closely collaborate with tropical paleoecologists with the aim to understand long-term drought and fire resilience of tropical forests across the Amazon and beyond.

Secondary succession of tropical forests after agricultural land abandonment

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. In collaboration with Prof. Lourens Poorter, Prof. Frans Bongers, dr. Catarina Jacovak, and dr. Iris Hordijk I coordinate the secondary Neotropical forest network "2ndFOR". This network combines >100 sites that evaluate forest recovery using chronosequences. Furthermore, I participate in the ERC-PANTROP project of Prof. Poorter on the role of landscape composition and tree diversity for pantropical forest succession.