Forest findings in a temperate zone

Indigo Bunting
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is on the cutting edge of research when it comes to studying forest dynamics.

UW-Green Bay faculty and staff members Prof. Bob Howe, Prof. Amy Wolf and Herbarium Curator Gary Fewless have partnered with the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Earth Observatory Program to assist in studying how forests in a temperate zone evolve and change around the biological and physical forces they face.

The collaboration spans the globe, partnering hundreds of scientists and students at dozens of universities.

“That’s the real beauty of the project. It really gives faculty members, as well as students, an opportunity to be involved in a much bigger global project,” said Wolf, UW-Green Bay’s principal investigator for the project.

UW-Green Bay is monitoring forest plots near Wabikon Lake in the Nicolet National Forest and on the UW-Green Bay campus.

“We’re interested in looking at the factors that are impacting things like recruitment and mortality of tree species here in Wisconsin and we’re representing the temperate forest area,” Wolf said.

Using data from the global network of partners studying large-scale forest plots, researchers hope to compare temperate forests with tropical forests throughout the world.

With global climate systems and life on Earth changing fact, the research will help give policymakers and scientists the data they need that will enable them to distinguish the effects of climate changes caused by humans and those caused by natural processes. The study should help answer such questions as:

• Is climate change causing increases or decreases in forest biomass, and does the rate of carbon sequestered by forests vary with latitude?

• How are the diversity and relative abundance of forest organisms changing over time and space?

• What components of measured environmental changes are due to human activities?

• How can we modify our behavior and economies to reverse or slow down harmful environmental impacts caused by climate change?

The chance to be involved in this type of international research is invaluable, Howe said.

“The opportunity for our students to connect with international research on this scale is fantastic,” he said. “And we really look forward to engaging students and involving students over many years in this project. I think it will help them take the next step in their careers.


UW Green Bay Forest Dynamics Study
An International Research Project

Prof. Bob Howe
Natural and Applied Sciences

I think one could probably make the case that this is one of the most, if not the most ambitious project ever in forests ecology.

This is part of a global network that is looking at the dynamics of forest ecosystems. It’s done so on a very intensive basis, where on a large plot, but in one place, every single tree is measured and tagged and followed indefinitely. We hope over many, many years. This is going to give us information about the patterns of mortality, the patters of regeneration, the patterns of the processes that make forest ecosystems work.

I think that in itself is important, but what makes this really exciting is the fact that it’s standardized and being conducted at what eventually will be dozens of other sites around the world. We’re, here at UW-Green Bay, able to I think pioneer this work in the temperate zone.

The project originated in the tropics and is well established there now, and has led to hundreds and hundreds of publications and books on that work. It’s never before been conducted in the temperate zone and that’s where we fit in.

Gary Fewless
UW-Green Bay Herbarium Curator

I think there’s a tendency to believe that a forest is unchanging, but in fact it changes quite rapidly. In order to understand how the forest is changing, both in terms of the long-term aspects of the forest, but also in terms of maybe some possible recent changes, in terms of climate change, invasive species and so fourth. It’s necessary to actually look at a particular piece of forest in detail over a long period of time.

Bob Howe
We have many patterns that are just now being discovered in terms of global systems. And we have changes going on with our climate. We have change that’s going on with human impacts on the environment. And we’re going to be establishing a baseline that will help us monitor and understand that change over time.

Prof. Amy Wolf
Natural and Applied Sciences

We’re really in the beginning stages of the project, but already we have over 14 students involved—graduate students, but mostly undergraduates.

They really get the real life, real world experience of carrying out this sort of large-scale global research.

Lori Caelwaerts
Graduate student, aspiring teacher

This experience is wonderful in that it keeps me up to date with current research, and that’s something I can bring to my science classroom. And it’s also something that I can bring as an experience to my students who might be interested in pursuing research in the science areas as well.

I’m really looking forward to working with the excellent professors that I’ve been working with. And I’m excited about being involved in cutting-edge research

Bob Howe
The opportunity for our students to connect with international research on this scale is fantastic. And we really look forward to engaging students and involving students over many years in this project. I think it will help them take the next step in their careers.

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