Brigid Franey - Forest Canopy Lab

St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN


Looking Over the Edge: A Natural History of Forest Edges

As Dr. Jess Parker will be the first to say, the most exciting thing about working in the canopy lab is that we are looking at things that no one has ever looked at before.  Scientists, despite their emphasis on impartiality, still tend to think anthropocentrically and places that humans do not live are neglected with respect to scientific investigation.  This was the fate the deciduous forest canopy suffered until very recently.  Now, with the help of lasers, light sensors, helium ballons, cranes and helicopters, we are investigating what goes on in the canopy.

Fragmentation has recently become a concern for ecologists however, like most ecological processes, no one has investigated its effects above the ground and in the canopy.  My research involves a survey of forest edges (the result of fragmentation) with the goal to create a natural history of forest edges by comparing the edges between differently aged forests to see if edges persist over time or if a forest can effectivly "knit itself up" and erase all evidence of an edge.  The edge effects that I'm looking at are canopy structure (making use of a new backpack laser system called SLICER) and fractional light transmittance at the forest floor (using a hand held PAR sensor).

Although edges may effectivly disappear from a human perspective, which is no more than forest floor visual observation, they may persist in the forest structure and the light transmittance and have a continual effect on both the under and overstory growth of the forest.

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