Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry
Tropical forests have the highest biological diversity among the terrestrial ecosystems, though they are seriously decreasing and degrading. The conservation and restoration of tropical forests is one of the most urgent and important global environmental issues. Dr. Peter Shaw Ashton has made significant contributions towards solving the conflict between human beings and the tropical forest ecosystem through his long and prominent career of research on tree taxonomy and forest ecology.
Early in his career, Dr. Ashton made taxonomic, systematic and bio-geographical research on the Dipterocarpaceae and other items, which are important components of tropical forests in Asia. He also clarified a system of tropical forest classification and distribution based on his comprehensive research on the relationship between forest types and their environment. Most tropical biologists and even stakeholders are relying on these systems now.
The most prominent contribution by Dr. Ashton has been his leadership in research projects since the 1980s to promote the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests. Working for the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) program of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he has promoted a project to formulate a network of Forest Dynamic Plots in the tropics to elucidate the biological diversity and biological productivity of tropical forests, and their roles in stabilizing global climate. Now, the network has become really large in scale, including 18 permanent plots (11 in Asia) with altogether 6000 species and 3 million standing trees; and all these plots are undergoing tree censuses every 5 years. Dr. Ashton, as the co-founder of CTFS and the principal investigator of Asian sites, made an extraordinary effort to bring about the success of this project. He thereby brought us enormous biological and ecological knowledge indispensable for establishing the technology of the conservation and restoration of tropical forests. Moreover, the project is expected to have scientific implications for global decision makers by expanding studies into such relevant fields as traditional use of forests by local people, socio-economic analyses on the sustainability of forest use, and the effect of economic growth on forest ecosystems.
Concluding the above notes, Dr. Peter Shaw Ashton highly deserves the 2007 Japan Prize for his long-term contribution to solving the conflict between humanity and tropical forests through his tremendous research activities.