Michiel van Breugel

Science (Environmental Studies)

Associate Professor

Contact No.: +65-6601-3705
Email: michiel.vanbreugel@yale-nus.edu.sg
Website: goo.gl/mnMMEU

View Curriculum Vitae

Associate Professor Michiel van Breugel received his MSc in Forestry and Nature Management in 1997 and his PhD in 2007, both from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. During his doctoral research, he established a chronosequence of permanent sample plots in secondary forests in southern Mexico, which is now one of the longest-running studies on secondary forest dynamics in the Tropics.

Prior to joining Yale-NUS, Assoc Prof van Breugel was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama from 2007-2013. As part of an interdisciplinary project on the ecosystem services provided by tropical forests, he co-led the design and establish two of the largest long-term field studies of their kind in the Tropics. Both projects are still running. The first is a secondary forest dynamics (SFD) study in a moist and a dry agricultural landscape with 177 permanent vegetation plots. The second is a 60 hectare reforestation experiment with different combinations of native tree species with contrasting resource acquisition and use strategies. A parallel liana removal experiment was set up a few years later and most recently, an additional nutrient addition experiment that seeks to unravel the role of nitrogen fixing trees in tropical forest succession has been started up with an international group of collaborators. This combination of field studies and experiments offer alternative approaches to quantify and scale the influence of environmental conditions, functional composition, interactions and landscape-scale processes on biodiversity and ecosystem processes and services of ‘new forests’ in human-modified landscapes.

Currently, Assoc Prof van Breugel continues to co-lead the secondary forest dynamics study in Panama and related experiments and is collaborator in the reforestation experiment. Both studies have generated an increasing number of collaborations with colleagues from different disciplines. In Singapore, Assoc Prof van Breugel collaborates with colleagues from the Environmental Research group at Yale-NUS, the Departments of Biological Sciences and Geology, the NUS school of Design & Environment, and the National park Board on the dynamics of secondary forest, distribution of swamp and mangrove species in relationship with environmental variables and the ecosystem functions of urban trees forests.

Assoc Prof van Breugel’s research focuses on the ecology of forest and trees in human-modified landscapes. He is broadly interested in understanding how human land-use and ecological processes interact to shape plant community dynamics and affect the provision of ecosystem services in and across different landscapes. His work focuses on the mechanisms and processes that determine the capacity of regrowing forests, which now encompass over 50 percent of the world’s tropical forests, to recover from human-caused drivers of ecosystem change. He hopes that his work will provide information for the effective restoration, management and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in transformed landscapes.Within this framework, Assoc Prof van Breugel uses approaches from population, community and plant functional trait ecology to evaluate the dynamics of plant communities and populations and their drivers and works with complementary study systems that range from controlled experiments to long-term monitoring of natural succession.

Assoc Prof van Breugel’s main research sites are in the central Panama Canal Watershed and in Singapore. In Panama he co-leads one of the largest long-term secondary forest dynamics (SFD) study in the Tropics and related experimental studies on the role of lianas, N2 fixing tree species and soil nutrients on the productivity and succession of secondary forests. One of his main research questions is currently how strongly the increasing frequency of exceptionally long and intense dry seasons may affect the potential of secondary forest to sequester carbon and preserve tree diversity. He also explores how data from SFD studies and reforestation experiments can be used to develop guidelines for tree species selection for forest restoration projects.

Assoc Prof van Breugel’s research in Singapore include a study with colleagues from Yale-NUS and the NUS Departments of Biological Sciences and Geology on how environmental variables and plant traits jointly moderate the distribution of tree species in swamp and mangrove ecosystems. With colleagues from Yale-NUS, the NUS school of Design & Environment and the National park Board, he uses a plant trait approach to assess the provision of ecosystem services of trees in an urban environment. With a colleague and students form Yale-NUS he works on a simulation model of secondary forest succession from a landscape perspective.

Besides these projects, Assoc Prof van Breugel participates in various collaborative studies, one of which is a large network of secondary forests studies from a wide range of tropical regions.


Yee, A.T.K., H.R. Lai1, K.Y. Chong, L. Neo, C.Y. Koh, S.Y. Tan, W.W. Seah, J. Loh, R. Lim, M. van Breugel & H.T.W. Tan. Hugh Short-term responses in a secondary tropical forest after a severe windstorm event. Journal of Vegetation Science. In press.

Poorter [and 79 others, including M. van Breugel] (2019). Wet and dry tropical forests show opposite successional pathways in wood density but converge over time. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-0882-6

Rozendaal, D.M.A. [and 76 others, including M. van Breugel] Biodiversity resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Science Advances, 5(3): eaau3114. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau3114

Van Breugel, M., D. Craven, H.R. Lai1, M. Baillon, B.L. Turner & J.S. Hall (2019). Soil nutrients and dispersal limitation shape compositional variation in secondary tropical forests across multiple scales. Journal of Ecology, 107(2): 566-581. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.13126

Mayoral, C., M. van Breugel, B.L. Turner, G.P. Asner, N.R., Vaughn & Jefferson S. Hall (2019). Effect of microsite quality and species composition on tree growth: A semi-empirical modeling approach. Forest Ecology & Management. Forest Ecology and Management, 432, 534-545. doi. 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.09.047


Batterman, S, J.S. Hall, B. Turner, L. Hedin, J. K. LaHaela Walter, P. Sheldon & M. van Breugel (2018). Phosphatase activity and nitrogen fixation reflect species differences not nutrient trading or nutrient balance across tropical rainforest trees. Ecology Letters 21: 1486–1495. doi. 10.1111/ele.13129.

Craven, D.J., J.S. Hall , G.P. Berlyn, M.S. Ashton & M. van Breugel (2018). Habitat filtering limits functional diversity during succession in a wet tropical secondary forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 29(3): 511-520. doi. 10.1111/jvs.12632

Gei, M. [and 68 others, including M. van Breugel](2018). Legume abundance along successional and rainfall gradients in Neotropical forests. Nature Ecology and Evolution 2: 1104–1111. doi. 10.1038/s41559-018-0559-6.

Lai, H.R.1, J.S. Hall, S.A. Batterman, B. Turner & M. van Breugel (2018). Nitrogen fixer abundance has no effect on biomass recovery during tropical secondary forest succession. Journal of Ecology 106(4): 1415-1427. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12979


Lai, H.R.1, J.S. Hall, B. Turner & M. van Breugel (2017). Liana effects on biomass dynamics strengthen during secondary forest succession. Ecology 98(4), 1062-1070. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1734.

Muscarella, R., M. Lohbeck, M. Martínez-Ramos, L. Poorter, J.E. Rodríguez-Velázquez, M. van Breugel & F. Bongers (2017). Demographic drivers of functional composition dynamics. Ecology, in press. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1990.

Mayoral, C., M. van Breugel, A. Cerezo & J.S. Hall (2017). Survival and growth of five Neotropical timber species in monocultures and mixtures. Forest Ecology and Management 403: 1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2017.08.002.

Rozendaal, D.M.A. [and 18 others, including M. van Breugel] (2017)]. Demographic drivers of aboveground biomass dynamics during secondary succession in Neotropical dry and wet forests. Ecosystems 20 (2), 340-353. doi: 10.1007/s10021-016-0029-4.


Caughlin, T.T., S.J. Graves, G.P. Asner, M. van Breugel, J.S. Hall, R.E. Martin, M.S. Ashton, S.A. Bohlman (2016). A single hyperspectral image can accurately predict growth rates of twenty tropical tree species. Ecological Applications 26 (8), 2367-2373. doi: 10.1002/eap.1436

Chazdon, R.L., [and 59 others, including M. van Breugel] (2016). Carbon sequestration potential of second-growth forest regeneration in the Latin American tropics. Science Advances 2: e1501639. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639.

Poorter, L. [and 64 others, including M. van Breugel] (2016). Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530, 211–214. doi: 10.1038/nature16512


Barry, K.E., S. A. Schnitzer, M. van Breugel & J. S. Hall (2015). Rapid Liana Colonization and Community Development along a Secondary Forest Chronosequence. Biotropica, 47(6): 672–680. doi: 10.1111/btp.12259

Craven, D., J.S. Hall, G.P. Berlyn, M.S. Ashton & M. van Breugel (2015). Changing gears during succession: shifting functional strategies in young tropical secondary forests. Oecologia 179: 293-305. doi: 10.1007/s00442-015-3339-x

Norden, N., H.A. Angarita, F. Bongers, M. Martínez-Ramos, I. Granzow-de la Cerda, M. van Breugel, E. Lebrija-Trejos, J.A. Meave, J. Vandermeer, G.B. Williamson, B. Finegan, R. Mesquita, R.L. Chazdon (2015). Successional dynamics in Neotropical forests are as uncertain as they are predictable. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112: 8013-8018.

Letcher, S.G., [and 55 others, including M. van Breugel] (2015). Environmental gradients and the evolution of successional habitat specialization: a test case with 14 Neotropical forest sites. Journal of Ecology, 103: 1276–1290. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12435.

van Breugel P., R. Kindt, J.-P.B. Lillesø, M. van Breugel (2015). Environmental Gap Analysis to Prioritize Conservation Efforts in Eastern Africa. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121444.

Falster D.S., (and 95 others, including M. van Breugel] (2015). BAAD: a Biomass And Allometry Database for woody plants. Ecology 96(5): 1445.


Lohbeck, M., L. Poorter, M. Martínez-Ramos, J. Rodriguez-Velázquez, M. van Breugel, F. Bongers (2014). Changing drivers of species dominance during tropical forest succession. Functional Ecology, 28: 1052–1058


Batterman, S.A., L.O. Hedin, M. van Breugel, J. Ransijn, D.J. Craven & J.S. Hall (2013). Key role of symbiotic dinitrogen fixation in tropical forest secondary succession. Nature, 502: 224–227

Van Breugel, M., J.S. Hall, D.J. Craven, M. Bailon, A. Hernandez, M. Abbene, & P. van Breugel (2013). Succession of ephemeral secondary forests and their limited role for the conservation of floristic diversity in a human-modified tropical landscape. PLoS ONE, 8(12): e82433

Zimmermann, B., A. Zimmermann, H.L. Scheckenbach, T.Schmid, J.S. Hall & M. van Breugel (2013). Changes in rainfall interception along a secondary forest succession gradient in lowland Panama. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 17: 4659-4670

Asner, G.P., J. Mascaro, C. Anderson, D.E. Knapp, R.E. Martin, T. Kennedy-Bowdoin, M. van Breugel, S. Davies, J.S. Hall, H.C. Muller-Landau, C. Potvin, W. Sousa, J. Wright and E. Bermingham (2013). High fidelity national carbon mapping for resource management and REDD+. Carbon Balance and Management 2013, 8:7


Lohbeck, M., L. Poorter, H. Paz, L. Pla, M. van Breugel, M. Martínez-Ramos & F. Bongers (2012).
Functional diversity changes during tropical forest succession. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 14 (2): 89-96

Martínez-Ramos, M. [and 54 others, including M. van Breugel] (2012). Manejo de bosques tropicales: bases científicas para la conservación, restauración y aprovechamiento de ecosistemas en paisajes Rurales. Investigación Ambiental Ciencia y Politica Publica 4: 111 – 129.

Letcher, S., R. Chazdon, A. Andrade, F. Bongers, M. van Breugel, B. Finegan, S. Laurance, R. Mesquita, M.
Martínez-Ramos & G. Williamson (2012). Phylogenetic community structure during succession: evidence from three Neotropical forest sites. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 14(2): 79-87

Van Breugel, M., P. van Breugel, P. Jansen, M. Martínez-Ramos & F. Bongers (2012). The relative importance of above- versus belowground competition for tree growth during early succession of a tropical moist forest. Plant Ecology 213 (1): 25-34

Asner, G. P. , J. Mascaro, H.C. Muller-Landau, G. Vieilledent, R.Vaudry, M. Rasamoelina, J. Hall & M. van Breugel (2012). A Universal Airborne LiDAR Approach for Tropical Forest Carbon Mapping. Oecologia 168:1147–1160


Van Breugel, M., J. Ransijn, D.J. Craven, F. Bongers & J.S. Hall (2011). Estimating carbon stock in secondary forests: Decisions and uncertainties associated with allometric biomass models. Forest Ecology and Management 262 (8): 1648-1657

Van Breugel, M., J.S. Hall, D.J. Craven, T.G. Gregoire, A. Park, D.H. Dent, M.H. Wishnie, E. Mariscal, J. Deago, D. Ibarra, N. Cedeño & M.S. Ashton (2011). Early growth and survival of 49 tropical tree species across sites differing in soil fertility and rainfall in Panama. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1580-1589

Visser, M.D., E. Jongejans, M. van Breugel, P.A. Zuidema, Y.-Y. Chen, A. R. Kassim & H.de Kroon (2011). Strict mast fruiting for a tropical dipterocarp tree: A demographic cost-benefit analysis of delayed reproduction and seed predation. Journal of Ecology 99: 1033–1044

Mascaro, J., G. P. Asner, H.C. Muller-Landau, M. van Breugel, J.S. Hall, & K. Dahlin (2011). Controls over aboveground forest carbon density on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Biogeosciences 8: 1615-1629

Paul, Gillian S. F. Montagnini, G.P. Berlyn, D.J. Craven, M. van Breugel & J.S. Hall (2011). Comparisons of foliar herbivory and leaf defense traits among native tree species in a young plantation of Central Panama. New Forests, 3: 69-87

Neumann-Cosel, L., B. Zimmermann, J.S. Hall, M.van Breugel & H. Elsenbeer (2011). Soil carbon dynamics under young tropical secondary forests on former pastures—A case study from Panama. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1625-1633

Hassler, S., B. Zimmermann, M.van Breugel, J.S. Hall & H. Elsenbeer (2011). Recovery of saturated hydraulic conductivity under secondary succession on former pasture in the humid tropics. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1634-1642

Hall, J.S., B.E. Love, E.J. Garen, J.L. Slusser, K. Saltonstall, S.Mathias, M. van Breugel, D.Ibarra, E.W. Bork, D. Spaner, M.H. Wishnie & M.S. Ashton (2011). Tree plantations on farms: Evaluating growth and potential for success. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1675-1683


Park, A.D., M. van Breugel, M.S. Ashton, M. Wishnie, E.Mariscal, J.Deago, D. Ibarra, N. Cedeño, & J.S. Hall (2010). Local and regional environmental variation influences the growth of tropical trees in selection trials in the Republic of Panama. Forest Ecology and Management 260: 12-21


Brienen, R.J.W., E. Lebrija-Trejos, M. van Breugel, E.A. Pérez-García, F. Bongers, J.A. Meave & M. Martínez-Ramos (2008) The Potential of tree rings for the study of forest succession in southern Mexico. Biotropica 41: 186-195

Chazdon, R.L., C.A. Harvey, O. Komar, D.M. Griffith, B.G. Ferguson, M. Martínez-Ramos, H. Morales, R. Nigh, L. Soto-Pinto, M. van Breugel & S.M. Philpott (2008). Beyond reserves: A research agenda for conserving biodiversity in human-modified tropical landscapes. Biotropica 41: 142-153

Harvey, C.A., O. Komar, R. Chazdon, B.G. Ferguson, B. Finegan, D.M. Griffith, M. Martínez-Ramos, H. Morales, R. Nigh, L. Soto-Pinto, M. Van Breugel & M. Wishnie (2008). Integrating agricultural landscapes with biodiversity conservation in the Mesoamerican hotspot. Conservation Biology 22: 815

López-Toledo, L., M. Martínez, M. van Breugel & F.J. Sterck (2008). Soil and light effects on the sapling performance of the shade-tolerant species Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae) in a Mexican tropical rain forest. Journal of Tropical Ecology 24: 629–637


Dekker, M., M. van Breugel & F. J. Sterck (2007). Effective height development of four co-occurring species in the gap-phase regeneration of Douglas fir monocultures under nature-oriented conversion. Forest Ecology and Management 238: 189-198, doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2006.10.012

Chazdon, R. L., S. Letcher, M. van Breugel, M. Martínez-Ramos, F. Bongers & B. Finegan (2007). Rates of change in tree communities of secondary Neotropical forests following major disturbances. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 362: 273-289

Van Breugel, M., F. Bongers & M. Martínez-Ramos (2007). Species Dynamics during early secondary forest succession: recruitment, mortality and species turnover. Biotropica 39: 610-619


Van Breugel, M., M. Martínez-Ramos & F. Bongers (2006). Community dynamics during early secondary succession in Mexican tropical rain forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology 22: 663-674

Ecology & Ecosystems
Ecological Restoration
Quantitative Reasoning