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The effects of large-scale deforestation

Friday, July 16, 2010, by Crystal Garcia and Angie Marshall
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We are working in the clearcut up on Prospect Hill near the fire tower. Previously, this area was a spruce plantation, but 2 years ago, it was deforested and timber was harvested. This area is now used as a research site to highlight the effects of large-scale deforestation efforts. A flux-tower was set up in the middle of the area to help capture the carbon, water, and energy fluxed between the land and the air. The data we are collecting will be used to put the flux tower measurements into context to better understand the effects of climate variability on carbon sequestration and release from ecosystems (US Forest Service 2009).

To get a snapshot of the landscape, we must employ many different types of data collection methods. Throughout the summer, we’ve been measuring woody debris and vegetation. We have 5 transects that extend from the flux tower, and each transect measures 50m. We identified over 39 different types of vegetation along these transects and also recorded vegetation abundance. Fine woody debris data will also be collected along these transects. We also have 12, 20m x 20m plots between the transects (3 between each transect) where we identified and measured seedlings and saplings as well as collected all coarse woody debris measurements. So far we have completed our vegetation survey comprised of a botanical inventory, vegetation transects, and seedling and sapling plots.

Currently, we are working on finishing up collection of woody debris data so that we can resample our vegetation transects to record vegetation growth and capture any differences in vegetation composition. For our individual projects, we are both focusing on different aspects of the clearcut data we‘ve collected.

Angie will be using the woody debris data and, based on the decay rates proposed in scientific papers, will predict the rate of decay in this specific clear cut in order to better understand the rate at which carbon is released from the debris.

Crystal will perform analysis on the data gathered from the vegetation transects and seedling/sapling plots to characterize the vegetation found in the clear cut as well as its composition in the site. She will also be using Audrey Barker Plotkin’s (Harvard Forest Site Coordinator) previously collected data on the plantation before it was harvested to compare pre- and post-harvest data to record changes in vegetation inventory, growth, and composition.

It gets pretty warm in the clearcut during the summer months, but we are rewarded with an endless supply of berries and a nice farmer’s tan. All of our hard work has been well worth it and will continue to reward us well into the future. We will not only come out of this experience with data to be used for our own research endeavors at our home institutions next semester, but we’ll also have mastered valuable field methods and the opportunity to perform data analysis on data we singlehandedly collected and compiled . As a student, you aren’t always afforded the chance to play such a significant role in each phase of the scientific process, and we definitely are experiencing that here at Harvard Forest, which is extremely rewarding.