Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Doing nothing might be best management decision for forests destroyed by wind or ice

Date:
October 17, 2012
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
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. New research 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.

In 1990, this part of NSF's Harvard Forest LTER site was a jumble of downed trees.
Credit: Marcheterre Fluet

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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Barker Plotkin, Audrey, David R. Foster, Joel Carlson, and Alison H. Magill. Survivors, not invaders, control forest development following simulated hurricane. Ecology, 2012 (in press) [link]

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Doing nothing might be best management decision for forests destroyed by wind or ice." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017124103.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2012, October 17). Doing nothing might be best management decision for forests destroyed by wind or ice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017124103.htm
National Science Foundation. "Doing nothing might be best management decision for forests destroyed by wind or ice." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017124103.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Seismic Activity Halts Recovery at Japan Volcano

Seismic Activity Halts Recovery at Japan Volcano

AP (Sep. 30, 2014) Rescuers were forced to suspend plans to recover at least two dozen bodies from near the summit of Mount Ontake in central Japan on Tuesday after increased seismic activity raised concern about the possibility of another eruption. (Sept. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A study released Monday suggests dolphins might be able to sense the Earth's magnetic field and possibly use it as a means of navigation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Battle Stink Bug Season

How To Battle Stink Bug Season

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) Homeowners in 33 states grapple with stink bugs moving indoors at this time of year. Here are a few tips to avoid stink bug infestations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins