Emma Sayer uses experimental and observational approaches to investigate biogeochemical and ecosystem processes in tropical forests. In particular, her research focuses on abovegroundbelowground interactions in tropical forest nutrient cycling and carbon dynamics. She believes that a better, more mechanistic understanding of feedbacks between plants and soil is urgently needed in order for us to accurately predict long-term impacts of climate change in tropical forests.
Emma's current experiments are being carried out within the framework of a large-scale litter manipulation project on Gigante Peninsula in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument, Panama. The project was designed to assess the importance of litter to carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical forests. In brief, all the litter is removed from five 45-m x 45-m plots once a month and added to five others, leaving five undisturbed as controls. This work has revealed some remarkable feedback processes between aboveground litterfall and belowground carbon dynamics. Her current research focuses on these feedbacks and investigates how increased litterfall affects forest carbon cycling. This work is being carried out in collaboration with Drs Joe Wright and Ben Turner at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Dr Edmund Tanner at the University of Cambridge.