Punks in Decay

Mon, 08 Apr 2013 10:54:00 CDT  — by: Jane Brown, C'13

decay_300Human inhabitants have had a substantial impact upon the forest ecology atop the Cumberland Plateau and subsequently Sewanee’s Domain has a variety of forests. While some areas have been harvested or planted with monoculture plantations such as the non-native white pine, others remain relatively unmanaged. 

Current students in Dr. Jon Evans Conservation Biology class are working on a coarse woody debris analysis in order to get a gauge of the forest-ecosystem structure. Downed wood makes good homes for animals and various insects. By using four different study sites, students can compare and contrast the downed wood at each site in order to gauge the appropriate level of forest management and its subsequent effect on the ecosystem.

The students chose four plots: two old growth plots, one that that have never been managed and one that has been managed but not intensively; and two plots that were managed, one with recent and intense management, and one whose management  has been not recent and not intense. Once the plots were selected, various methods were used to quantify the amount of course woody debris. By using smaller sections and counting the downed wood, calculations were later used to estimate what the larger area would be.

img_0067The purpose of this study was to establish a baseline of data collection and create a repeatable procedure for others to continue research in the future. Their results, however, show that the difference between the two management practices may help improve ecosystem vitality. Woody debris analysis is not typically a well-recognized management practice; most harvesting perspectives view scrap wood as useless. This new study recognizes that downed woody materials can be useful for ecosystem health. This is great news considering the relative plant and bird diversity around the Sewanee area.

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