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Discovering how hurricanes have affected New England forests

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, by Meredith Kueny and Lianna Lee
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Lianna and I are working on the Simulated Hurricane Long Term Ecological Research project out on the Tom Swamp tract of the Harvard Forest. As a part of this project we are collecting another year's worth of data and information on how the original trees are fairing as well as documenting new canopy regeneration and understory dynamics. This summer specifically we’ve worked on recording the current status of the original trees, quantifying the amount of dead wood, mapping new trees that have grown to 5cm Dbh (diameter at breast height), analyzing leaf liter, and observing understory vegetation make-up and coverage. The pull down and control plots are both quite large (160mx50m and 120mx50m respectively) and most sapling methods require several measurements, so we work our way through the plots together for each of the various phases of data collection. We’re currently working on mapping in the new trees and will then move on to our understory survey.

Here is a timeline of a day in the life of a hurricane researcher:

8am: wake up and head down to Shaler Hall for breakfast

8:45: meet with Audrey Barker-Plotkin (our mentor) and psych ourselves up to go out to the field

9:15: arrive at the Hurricane Plot

9:15-9:20: suit up for going into the woods: apply ample amounts of bug spray, mosquito netting and gloves

9:20-12:00pm: collect data for whatever phase of the project we’re on, i.e. do dead wood transects or map in trees

12:00-1:00pm: head back to Shaler for a delicious lunch and to recuperate our mental strength

1:00-4:00pm: continue the day’s work

So far we have learned the following tid bits:

• Tree tags almost always mysteriously vanish

• Spiders always tend to make their webs at face level

• Hurricanes are actually an important disturbance cycle for New England forests

• No amount of bug spray or mosquito netting will keep you from getting bug bites

• Trees grow back from being damaged in cooler ways than you could imagine

• Chipmunks love playing on the downed wood

• The forest structure has actually changed quite dramatically since the “hurricane”

Where will our project go from here?

After the data we collect this summer are analyzed, we will know a lot more about how the forest has regenerated from the hurricane disturbance which occurred 20 years ago. In the future, scientists can continue to look at this site as a means of understanding the important role wind damage plays in New England forests.