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Ellison Abstract- 2010 Ellison et al MEE

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Ellison, A. M., A. A. Barker-Plotkin, D. R. Foster, and D. A. Orwig. 2010. Experimentally testing the role of foundation species in forests: the Harvard Forest Hemlock Removal Experiment. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 1: 168-179.


  1. Problem statement – Foundation species define and structure ecological systems. In forests around the world, foundation tree species are declining due to overexploitation, pests, and pathogens. Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), a foundation tree species in eastern North America, is threatened by an exotic insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). The loss of hemlock is hypothesized to result in dramatic changes in assemblages of associated species with cascading impacts on food webs and fluxes of energy and nutrients. We describe the setting, design, and analytical framework of the Harvard Forest Hemlock Removal Experiment (HF-HeRE), a multi-hectare, long-term experiment that overcomes many of the major logistical and analytical challenges of studying system-wide consequences of foundation species loss.
  2. Study design – HF-HeRE is a replicated and blocked Before-After-Control-Impact experiment that includes two hemlock removal treatments: girdling all hemlocks to simulate death by adelgid and logging all hemlocks > 20-cm diameter and other merchantable trees to simulate pre-emptive salvage operations. These treatments are paired with two control treatments: hemlock controls that are beginning to be infested in 2010 by the adelgid and hardwood controls that represent future conditions of most hemlock stands in eastern North America.
  3. Ongoing measurements and monitoring – Ongoing long-term measurements to quantify the magnitude and direction of forest ecosystem change as hemlock declines include: air and soil temperature, light availability, leaf area and canopy closure; changes in species composition and abundance of the soil seed bank, understory vegetation, and soil-dwelling invertebrates; dynamics of coarse woody debris; soil nitrogen availability and net nitrogen mineralization; and soil carbon flux. Short-term or one-time-only measurements include initial tree ages, hemlock-decomposing fungi, wood-boring beetles, and throughfall chemistry. Additional within-plot, replicated experiments include effects of ants and litter-dwelling microarthoropods on ecosystem functioning, and responses of salamanders to canopy change.
  4. Future directions and collaborations – HF-HeRE is part of an evolving network of retrospective studies, natural experiments, large manipulations, and modeling efforts focused on identifying and understanding the role of single foundation species on ecological processes and dynamics. We invite colleagues from around the world who are interested in exploring complementary questions to take advantage of the HF-HeRE research infrastructure.

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