The Rainforest Alliance is excited to announce the 2023 Kleinhans Fellow, Alyssa Killingsworth. Alyssa is currently working toward her Master of Science degree from the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. As Kleinhans Fellow, she will apply her background in interdisciplinary environmental research and forest restoration to examine the effectiveness of Polylepis restoration efforts in the upper Andes in Ecuador.
Polylepis is a slow-growing, endangered tree genus, comprising 26 species that grow above the tree line in the upper Andes and provide critical habitat for many endemic and endangered species. Deforestation has dramatically reduced Polylepis forest cover, causing habitat fragmentation and threatening biodiversity. Two non-profit organizations in the region, Acción Andina and Fundación Jocotoco, are working to restore Polylepis forests in collaboration with Community Forestry Enterprises (CFEs) and local Indigenous communities. However, these organizations have limited capacity to monitor their restoration efforts, hampering their ability to understand the effectiveness of these approaches.
For her Kleinhans Fellowship research, Alyssa will develop and implement a methodology for monitoring the health of restored Polylepis habitats, to aid in local restoration efforts. Over the course of two years, she will deploy automated recording units to passively monitor acoustics in primary Polylepis forests, restored forests, and the paramo (Andean tundra). Using acoustic data is a cost- and time-effective method to measure the presence and composition of wildlife, which is critical to understanding whether restored forests are providing suitable habitat for sensitive forest-dwelling species. Ultimately, this information will be used by local non-profits and CFEs to improve their restoration methods and make decisions about how to prioritize restoration projects to best enable key species to thrive.