Disturbance and Recovery

What are the consequences of changing a landscape? Months, years or centuries after an ecosystem suffers a disturbance, the effects often linger in the environment. Recovery does not always mean things will return to the way they were before.

Environmental disturbances take many forms. A great number are human-caused, including logging, farming and development. Others are natural. An intense storm sweeping through a Florida wetland, or a forest fire blazing across California, can also cause massive disturbance to an ecosystem.

SERC research explores the aftermath of major disturbances. When hurricanes have hit forests in Florida and Mexico, SERC scientists have been on the scene investigating the damage weeks and months after the event, and watching how the ecosystem recovers in the years that follow. In one study, mangrove ecologists discovered nutrient pollution makes mangroves more vulnerable to hurricane damage.

Other projects investigate the legacies of human disturbance. The vast majority of SERC forests have been logged, farmed on or both at some point in the last 250 years. SERC forest ecologists observe how the forests are growing back after the logging and farming have ceased. Citizen scientists in the archaeology lab investigate the impacts of plantation farming more than a century after the plantation owners have died. And in invaded wetlands, researchers are studying the impacts of removing the invasive reed Phragmites australis.

Click on the projects below to learn more about recent work.