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Northern Research Station
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Forest Disturbance Processes

Monitoring and Assessment of Forest Health

How are the nation’s forests doing? The answer to that question is more important than ever in the face of multiple invasive pests which are adding to traditional disturbances of fire, wind, and timber harvest.. Northern Research Station researchers are developing tools to provide more reliable and more consistent answers to questions about forest conditions and the effects of management practices, pests, and changing climate. We are developing techniques to monitor forest ecosystems more closely using scientifically credible methods. We are tracking forest conditions in the Northeast and Midwest through the nationally consistent Forest Inventory and Analysis program. These tools will help federal, state, tribal, and private land managers collect and analyze data that assists their efforts to ensure the sustainability of forests.

Selected Research Studies

[photo:] Environmental stress like drought can cause changes in a tree’s metabolism.Creating Forest Monitoring Tools for Early Stress Detection
By identifying and researching metabolic stress indicators in different tree species before, during and after disturbances, Northern Research Station scientists are creating a diagnostic biochemical toolkit for predicting how forest ecosystems will change in response to long-term stressors.

 

[photo:] Foresters examine trees for signs of stress.Developing New Methods to Monitor Metabolism in Woody Plant Tissue
orthern Research Station scientists are developing new and more efficient ways of conducting biochemical tree research. Some of these methods focus on tree metabolism while others focus on genomics, which is the study of all parts of an organism's genes. By identifying and researching metabolic and genetic stress indicators in different tree species before, during and after disturbances, Northern Research Station scientists are creating a diagnostic biochemical toolkit for predicting how forest ecosystems will change in response to long-term stressors.

 

[diagram:] illustrates how scientists are using genetic analysis to better understand how trees respond to environmental stress.Using Genetic Analysis to Understand How Trees Respond to Environmental Stress
Northern Research Station scientists are seeking to understand the biochemical mechanisms that regulate polyamine metabolism under normal and stress conditions. The objectives are to isolate, clone and characterize all polyamine biosynthetic genes that occur in response to chemical and physical stress, first in model plants and then in forest tree species. We will then genetically engineer these species with specific polyamine biosynthetic genes in order to study the roles of cellular polyamines in stress tolerance. In addition, we are evaluating how changes in a single metabolite can disrupt metabolite levels in all directly and indirectly interconnected pathways. This information will help scientists recognize resistant plants and sensitive plants based on their relative amounts of cellular polyamines, amino acids and phytochelatin.

 

[photo:] Northern Research Station scientists conduct field research to determine how nitrogen levels are affecting forest health.Monitoring Forest Health as Nitrogen Levels Rise
Northern Research Station scientists are seeking to understand the biochemical mechanisms that regulate polyamine metabolism under normal and stress conditions. The objectives are to isolate, clone and characterize all polyamine biosynthetic genes that occur in response to chemical and physical stress, first in model plants and then in forest tree species. We will then genetically engineer these species with specific polyamine biosynthetic genes in order to study the roles of cellular polyamines in stress tolerance. In addition, we are evaluating how changes in a single metabolite can disrupt metabolite levels in all directly and indirectly interconnected pathways. This information will help scientists recognize resistant plants and sensitive plants based on their relative amounts of cellular polyamines, amino acids and phytochelatin.

 

[photo:] Sugar maple leaves in fall color. Northern Research Station scientists are researching whether fall leaf colors contain clues about how some trees respond to environmental stress. Fall Leaf Colors: What They Tell Us about Tree Health
By studying trees such as the sugar maple, Northern Research Station scientists are identifying factors that stimulate anthocyanin production during autumn and in response to environmental stress. We are also evaluating the possible ecological benefits of anthocyanin production in senescing (withering) leaves.

 

[photo:] An extensive database of tree ring cross-sections helps Northern Research Station scientists understand how trees respond to environmental stressors. Using Tree Rings to Understand Climate Change and Pollution
Northern Research Station scientists are studying tree rings from New England’s Northern Forest, which stretches from the Adirondack Mountains in New York to Maine’s northern woods. In one study, we found that high sulfur and nitrogen pollution levels over the past 60 years occurred at the same time as reduced growth in red spruce trees. However, these trees are now growing at a faster rate than ever before in their lifetimes. In another research project, studies of five tree species on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield indicate that increased growth generally correlates with higher temperatures.

 

Understanding How Acid Rain Affects Soil and Trees
Northern Research Station scientists are finding out how calcium, nitrogen and aluminum affect microbial diversity, soil quality, photosynthesis, overall forest health, and tree responses to environmental stressors. We are also conducting tests to see if trees like paper birch are affected by acid rain, which has been connected to red spruce and sugar maple deaths.

 

[photo collage:] A. Biomass harvesting research plot, Idaho Panhandle National Forest;  B. Thin section of Tubulicrinis subulatus crust fungi on wood; C. Microscopy of Botryosphaeria canker on horse chestnut; D. SEM of Amphimena byssoides mycorrhiza on charred wood. Forests and Fungal Communities
We use microscopic and molecular identification techniques to identify fungi. We use many different methods and approaches to study the relationships between fungal communities and their forest.

 

photo:] Ice storms are a fact of life for northern forestsTree recovery from ice-storm injury
Although ice storms occur throughout much of the northeastern, mid-atlantic, and north central US, the recovery of trees that survive initial breakage had not been documented. A regional ice storm in 1998 in northern New York and New England provided an opportunity to document that recovery.

 

[photo:] Ground estimates of insect defoliation are scaled-up to regional scales using multiple remote sensing platforms, including aerial photography, Hyperion, Landsat ETM+, and MODIS.Effects of Insect Defoliation on Regional Carbon Dynamics of Forests
On an annual basis, insects severely defoliate more than 20 million acres of forested land in the conterminous United States, affecting a larger area and incurring higher economic costs than any other disturbance.  However, the long-term costs and ecosystem consequences of insect outbreaks on forest health and productivity are difficult to quantify at the regional scale because of the variety of pests involved, differences in forest types affected, and varying spatial scale and intensity of the impacts.  In particular, the effect of insect activity on carbon cycling and sequestration at the annual and decadal scale is poorly characterized.  

 

[photo:] Boardwalk leading to and surrounding SPRUCE experiment site on Marcell Experimental Forest.Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments
Through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Lab, a large chamber experiment is being initiated to test the effects of increased soil and air temperature and elevated carbon dioxide levels on northern peatland ecosystems.  The experiment will provide a platform for testing mechanisms controlling vulnerability of wetland ecosystems to important climate change variables. 

 

[photo:] Landscape Diversity, Vegetation types, National Wildlife Federation, GLA websiteEffects of forest composition on Northern Goshawk nest occurrence and productivity
The Northern Goshawk is a forest raptor found at low densities throughout northern hardwood forests of the Great Lakes region, and is a species of management concern for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF), Wisconsin.  The species has a circumboreal distribution and appears to be quite flexible in its nesting requirements and prey base, which limits the applicability of literature on nesting and foraging requirements from outside of the Great Lakes region.  Therefore, there is a need for local information on these aspects of Northern Goshawk biology to inform land managers of the most effective means to conserve the species. 

 

[photo:] Tower used in fire research at Silas Little Experimental ForestFire and Fuels Research at the Silas Little Experimental Forest
The Silas Little Experimental Forest was reinstated using National Fire Plan funding in 2003 to conduct multi-disciplinary fire and atmospheric science research to provide fire and forest managers with better tools for predicting fire danger, fire risk, air quality, and ecosystem functioning under changing environmental conditions. 

 

PhotoChequamegon Ecosystem-Atmosphere Study (CHEAS)
As part of the cooperative Chequamegon Ecosystem Atmosphere Study (ChEAS), NRS scientists have been studying the energy, water vapor and CO2 exchange between forest ecosystems and the atmosphere to understand the dynamics of forest productivity.

 

PhotoNorthern Forest Monitoring
The NRS Northern Forest Monitoring Program develops leading edge forest ecosystem monitoring methods and tools to help FIA and other organizations monitor forests, resulting in compatible results across the landscape.


 

PhotoForest Inventory & Analysis
Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) collects, analyzes, and reports information on the status and trends of America's forests: how much forest exists, where it exists, who owns it, and how it is changing.

 

Last Modified: 05/16/2019

About this Research :
Disturbance Science Topics
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