Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

In Blown-Down Forests, a Story of Survival

18.10.2012
To preserve forest health, the best management decision may be to do nothing

In newscasts after intense wind and ice storms, damaged trees stand out: snapped limbs, uprooted trunks, entire forests blown nearly flat.

In a storm's wake, landowners, municipalities and state agencies are faced with important financial and environmental decisions.

A study by Harvard University researchers, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published in the journal Ecology, yields a surprising result: when it comes to the health of forests, native plants and wildlife, the best management decision may be to do nothing.

Salvage logging is a common response to modern storm events in large woodlands. Acres of downed, leaning and broken trees are cut and hauled away.

Landowners and towns financially recoup with a sale of the damaged timber. But in a salvaged woodland landscape, the forest's original growth and biodiversity, on which many animals and ecological processes depend, is stripped away.

A thickly growing, early-successional forest made up of a few light-loving tree species develops in its place.

But what happens when wind-blown forests are left to their own devices?

The Ecology paper reports results of a 20-year study at NSF's Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Massachusetts. Harvard Forest is one of 26 such NSF LTER sites around the world in ecosystems from coral reefs to deserts, grasslands to the polar regions.

"To manage sustainable ecosystems, we must understand how they recover from extreme, natural events, such as hurricanes, fires and floods," says Matt Kane, a program director at NSF for LTER. "This process can take decades. The NSF LTER program is uniquely able to support important experiments at the time scales needed."

At Harvard Forest in 1990, a team of scientists recreated a major hurricane in a two-acre patch of mature oak forest.

Eighty percent of the trees were flattened with a large winch and cable. Half the trees died within three years, and the scientists left the dead and damaged wood on the ground.

In the 20 years since, the researchers have monitored everything from soil chemistry to the density of leaves on the trees.

What they found is a remarkable story of recovery.

Initially, the site was a nearly impassable jumble of downed trees. But surviving, sprouting trees, along with many new seedlings of black birch and red maple--species original to the forest--thrived amid the dead wood.

Although weedy invasive plants initially tried to colonize the area, few persisted for long.

"Leaving a damaged forest intact means the original conditions recover more readily," says David Foster, co-author of the paper and director of the NSF Harvard Forest LTER site.

"Forests have been recovering from natural processes like windstorms, fire and ice for millions of years. What appears to us as devastation is actually, to a forest, a natural and important state of affairs."

After severe tornadoes in Massachusetts in June 2011, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Division of Fisheries and Wildlife pursued a watch-and-wait policy at a site in Southbridge, Mass.

There, salvage work is limited to providing access routes for public safety.

The area is quickly regaining lush, native vegetation. It supports everything from invertebrates to salamanders, and black bears that winter in thick brush piles and forage for insects in rotting logs.

While a range of economic, public safety and aesthetic reasons seems to compel landowners to salvage storm-damaged trees, paper co-author Audrey Barker-Plotkin of the Harvard Forest site suggests that improving forest health should not be one of them.

"Although a blown-down forest appears chaotic," she says, "it is functioning as a forest and doesn't need us to clean it up."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov
Clarisse Hart, NSF Harvard Forest LTER Site (978) 756-6157 hart3@fas.harvard.edu
Related Websites
NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Network: http://www.lternet.edu
NSF Harvard Forest LTER Site: http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/
NSF Discovery Article: The Colors of Fall: Are Autumn Reds and Golds Passing Us By?: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125511&org=NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget is $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards nearly $420 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

Im Focus: New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater

Hybrid material converts more sunlight and can weather seawater's harsh conditions

It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study suggests oysters offer hot spot for reducing nutrient pollution

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

17.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

World first for reading digitally encoded synthetic molecules

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>