News / Science & Technology

Century-long Experiment Tests Forest Diversity

Century-long Experiment Tests Forest Diversityi
X
October 30, 2013 5:10 PM
We depend on forests for life. They provide the oxygen we breathe, harbor diverse species of plants and animals, protect watersheds, prevent soil erosion, and help keep global warming in check. But forests are under assault on multiple front from disease to climate change. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a century-long project is underway at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center near Washington to study the forest in a big way.

Century-long Experiment Tests Forest Diversity

Rosanne Skirble
Tucked into the wooded landscape and rolling hills of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is a new forest.

Six months ago, a cornfield covered this terrain. Today, it is the BiodiversiTree project, with 24,000 stick-like year-old trees. By next spring, if everything goes as planned, 35,000 trees will cover 10 fields.

“We're trying to figure out whether or not an ecosystem with lots of species functions any better or worse than an ecosystem with only a few species,” said senior scientist John Parker, who developed the plan.  

Prior smaller-scale research suggests diversity matters because it reduces pests and makes trees healthier. But Parker wondered if he would find the same result if he looked at an entire forest over the long-term.

Sum of the parts

The 100-year BiodiversiTree project calls for 125 plots with one, four or 12 species each. Marked off in the field by tall white poles, Parker says each provides a unique research opportunity.  

LISTEN: Century-long Experiment Tests Forest Diversity
Century-long Experiment Tests Forest Diversity i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“In many cases what we are seeing is a decline in native species, and then the question is, well,  does that mean anything?" Parker said. "Can other species fill that role of that missing species or does each species do something a little bit different such that the sum of the parts is more than the whole?”  

  • Prior to the massive BiodiversiTree project, this field was used to grow corn for 35 years. (SERC)
  • When the experimental forest is fully planted it will add some 35,000 trees to the landscape divided among 125 study plots.
  • BiodiversiTree includes 16 tree species native to North America, including this White Dogwood. (SERC)
  • Senior scientist John Parker dug 24,000 holes in the first phase of forest planting. Parker says it took about 30 seconds a hole, then another minute or so to fill in the dirt. (SERC)
  • Some 100 volunteers joined Smithsonian scientists at the Environmental Research Center to plant the trees according to a precise plan. (SERC)
  • Volunteer Phil Bishop planted 600 trees himself and will be back next season to plant more. (SERC)
  • Fields are flagged to indicate which species go into which hole. The markers also helped prevent trees from being mowed over. (SERC)
  • This hickory sapling is off to a healthy start in the 100-year forest project. (SERC)
  • Whether or not this Sycamore survives, scientists will use the long-term data to chart changes in the forest landscape. (SERC)
  • Smithsonian fellow Susan Cook-Patton and intern Emily DuBois gather data on insect damage at the end of the first growing season. (SERC)
  • This stream at the base of the BiodiversiTree project is part of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States that brings fresh water to millions of people on the East Coast of the United States. (SERC)
  • These mature trees near the experimental forest give a hint at what some of the trees will look like as they mature. (SERC)

While BiodiversiTree has a century to supply the answers, studies are beginning now. The area sits beside forested land and near a stream that flows into the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary and a valuable natural resource that provides fresh drinking water for millions of people.

“One of the big concerns over the last half century or so is that water quality in the Chesapeake Bay is getting worse,” Parker said.

That problem is exacerbated by nutrient runoff from decades of farming in the mid-Atlantic region.

“What our study is doing is we take those 35 years of pre-data," Parker said. "We put a forest in. Now we can compare what happens when you had corn versus what happens when you have a native forest planted in this diverse arrangement. If we plant even more of that watershed with forest, do we take out even more of those nutrients?”  

Changing landscape

Smithsonian Research Fellow Susan Cook-Patton, who helped design BiodiversiTree, gathers leaf samples with intern Emily Dubois.

“We are interested in how the insects are eating the leaves now," Cook-Patton said. "And we are also looking at traits that the leaves have to see if there are some types of species that have things that make the leaves less palatable, like if they are really tough or if they are really fuzzy those types of leaves will get less consumed by insects.”  



“If you do not have a baseline, you really do not know what you have lost or gained in the future," she said. "So if you can have a snapshot in time and move forward from there, you can actually learn a lot more than if we keep doing an experiment in two years, in 10 more years in the future we do another one short term experiment. So, scientifically, that's incredible.”

Physically, it is incredible, too. Over the course of five weeks, about 100 volunteers helped Parker and his staff plant the 24,000 trees. Phil Bishop, who managed a computer center before he retired, figures he single-handedly planted 500 or 600 of them. While his knees are a bit weary, he is glad to help out.
 
“I decided that I could make a contribution here, and that is really what I wanted to do was to be part of a program," Bishop said. "I will not see any results out of this more than likely, given my age and everything else.”

But, he adds, volunteering is good for the soul and in the case of BiodiversiTree, good for the soil, too.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid