Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Forest Unseen

A Year’s Watch in Nature

David George Haskell

A standard exercise in undergraduate  environmental science classes is to assign each student to go out and throw a hula hoop on the ground and then write a paper on what is to be found inside the circle of that hoop. I’m sure professors hope nobody will go out and do a report on a small part of an asphalt parking lot. Professor Haskell has taken this assignment to it’s logical extreme by visiting the same small patch of ground, on a mountainside, in an old growth forest near where he teaches biology in Tennessee, every week or two for an entire year.

Each chapter is derived from one such visit, starting in early January and running until December 31st. On every visit he sees something different, something timely and something interesting.

Haskell goes into extreme detail about the plants, the soil, the tiny springtails, the fungus, spiders and insects found in his square meter of ground. He also looks up to see the trees, the song birds and the deer, coyotes and raccoons that are in the surrounding forest.

Haskell’s small patch of ground is in and old growth forest, but human intervention is everywhere in his patch. Acidification caused by coal burning power plants, golf balls driving from the top of a nearby cliff by wagering golfers, global climate change. He has one chapter about the eradication of eastern timber wolves and their gradual replacement by coyotes migrating from the west and one on the effect of farming and timbering on the deer population.

As I am soon going to move in to a small patch of reasonable aged regrown forest I was drawn to this study. I sort of doubt that I will spend my retirement studying my local nematodes, but now, at least, I will know that they are there.


Post a Comment

Comments will be moderated - so keep your comments moderate!

OpenID users will have their blog links again, yay!