On March 18-19, ecologists including MBL Distinguished Scientist Jerry Mellilo gathered at Harvard Forest in central Massachusetts to mark the 30th anniversary of the forest’s designation as a Long Term Ecological Research site (LTER) by the National Science Foundation. Attendees visited signature experiments at the forest — such as Mellilo’s nearly 30-year soil-warming experiment to reveal how soil microbes and respiration from tree roots might respond to a warming world. Melillo, who has conducted research at Harvard Forest for 40 years, played an important role in getting the initial LTER experiments up and running — including a simulation of the catastrophic damage done by the Great Hurricane of 1938 to see how the forest recovers.
By Alvin Powell
Nearly 30 years ago, Harvard Forest scientists began a unique, long-running experiment on a 2-acre forest tract using a long steel cable, a winch, and a heavy-duty logging vehicle called a skidder.
One by one, they dragged the cable to 279 selected trees, attached it high on the trunk, and then radioed the guy at the skidder, parked outside the tract to avoid disturbing the forest floor, to trigger the winch. And, one by one, the trees came down.
When they were done, they had approximated the damage done across New England by the Great Hurricane of 1938, creating an experimental hurricane that affected 50 percent of the large canopy trees, opened the understory to new light, kick-started a decades-long recovery process, and created a nightmare landscape of fallen trunks and crisscrossed branches more easily traversed by a parkour expert than scientists charged with regularly recording the changes to come.
By March 2019, the nightmare had largely subsided. Read more …