Pieter Zuidema has been appointed Professor (holding a personal Chair) in Tropical Forest Ecology within Frits Mohren’s Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group (FEM). Pieter Zuidema’s research concentrates on issues such as the influence of forest exploitation on ecosystem services and forest productivity, the effect of climate change on forest and carbon dynamics, and of forest fragmentation on species survival and diversity.
“Climate change, interference and fragmentation are affecting tropical forests more and more," Pieter Zuidema says. "These changes can lead to reduced biodiversity, shifts in the global carbon cycle and a loss of income for the many millions of people who depend on tropical forests. We know very little indeed about these effects: how will forests react to warming and the increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? Is a fragment of tropical forest of any value to the natural environment? How much wood can you harvest in a sustainable manner?" The answers to these questions should help in the management of tropical landscapes in which agriculture, forestry and the protection of the natural environment are all combined sustainably.
Smart combination of methods
Pieter Zuidema is investigating these questions in three tropical continents – South America, Africa and Asia – using annual rings, stable isotopes, genetic properties, mathematical models and measurements taken in forest plots. “You can find out a great deal by using smart combinations of these methods. One example is: measuring stable isotopes in wood reveals the extent to which trees have adapted themselves physiologically to increased CO2 levels, whereas the annual rings tell us whether these adaptations have had an effect on tree growth." In his research, Zuidema not only measures the effects of human activities on tropical forests; he also investigates what the mechanisms are. “If we study whether palm leaves can be harvested sustainably, it is not so much a question of how many leaves are still present after ten years as of understanding how leaf harvest changes the dynamics of palm populations.”
European Research Grant
Pieter Zuidema is also very active within Wageningen University, notably by contributing to the Wageningen Young Academy and the BSc Honours Programme. He has already supervised ten PhD candidates and at the moment is supervising another five. Furthermore he has won a European Research Grant worth €1.7 million to be spent on his research into the effects of climate change on tropical forests. “He does a considerable amount, and all with apparent ease," Frits Mohren says. "He is a motivated and enthusiastic scientist who has a clear vision for the future. As well as showing commitment and cooperation in his work, he pays a great deal of attention to its social relevance.” It goes without saying that Zuidema is much appreciated as a teacher. His lessons are interactive and he teaches his students to think critically. Frits Mohren: “He is a great believer in the personal approach, so his contribution to educational innovation is substantial. In addition, he believes in making programme teaching as customised as possible, taking account of the various backgrounds, needs and programmes of the students.”