Colleges of Biological Sciences and Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Department of Plant Biology and Bell Museum
Efforts to preserve biodiversity begin with understanding the nature of life and the processes that sustain it. But they do not stop there. George Weiblen, professor in the Department of Plant Biology and curator of plants at the Bell Museum of Natural History, discovered this firsthand while studying plants and insects in the tropical rain forests of Papua New Guinea. Even as he conducted field studies aimed at describing rain forest biodiversity on tribal land, Weiblen witnessed the collapse of ecosystems impacted by logging and agricultural activity all around him. His response was to combine basic research with biodiversity protection. Weiblen works to build capacity among tribal landowners and forest managers for economically viable alternatives to timber harvest. Where previous and largely unsuccessful rain forest conservation efforts had targeted pristine, isolated forests in New Guinea, Weiblen set his sights on rain forests in and around areas impacted by human activity. Working with local landowners, he set up PNG's first protected forest reserve located in a logging concession.
As an IonE resident fellow, Weiblen is developing a permanent forest research plot at Wanang, Papua New Guinea, where trees are mapped, measured and remeasured for growth over time. These data can contribute to estimates of forest carbon sequestration to provide a scientific basis for carbon trading as a potential conservation strategy. IonE has further enabled Weiblen to investigate the socioeconomic impact of scientific research on tribal landowners who face choices between preservation and logging royalties. Bridget Henning, a Ph.D. student in conservation biology, is combining economics, geography, cultural anthropology and ecosystem science to approach this problem. A video describing her work may be viewed here.
See Weiblen's faculty page for more information.