Forest Ecology

We study forests with the primary goal of under standing how they change over time and how they respond to small and large-scale disturbances, including invasion by non-indigenous species.

Tropical ecologist David Clark defined disturbance as:
"a relatively discrete event causing a change in the physical structure of the environment."

We are interested in disturbances because, no matter what the cause, they initiate responses of plants, animals, and microbes that influence the structure and function of forest ecosystems. Some disturbances are very small and leave little evidence that they occurred. Most leaf damage by animals, for example, is typically small in scale but the impacts of removing all or parts of leaves are poorly known for most plant species in forests. Even less is known about the effects of removing small amounts of leaf material on forest structure and function.

Large-scale disturbances such as defoliation by gypsy moths or damage caused by tornadoes or hurricanes are more easily recognized but their short- or long-term impacts on forest structure and function are not well known.

Our interest in disturbance phenomena has taken us beyond the forests at SERC, including dry tropical forests in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.