A 57-acre research plot at a University of Michigan forest preserve northwest of Ann Arbor has been added to a Smithsonian Institution global network used to study tropical and temperate forest function and diversity.

The research plot is at U-M's 1,297-acre Edwin S. George Reserve, about 25 miles northwest of Ann Arbor in southwestern Livingston County, near Pinckney. The plot was added Aug. 12, 2014 to the Smithsonian Institution's Forest Global Earth Observatory network of inventory plots, which now includes 60 plots in 24 countries.

The designation will strengthen U-M's long-term forest ecology program by enabling student and faculty researchers to directly compare the mature oak-hickory forest at the George Reserve to forests around the globe. The Smithsonian network of research plots includes some 4.5 million trees from 8,500 species.

"The possibilities are endless," said U-M evolutionary biologist Christopher Dick, who took over as director of the Edwin S. George Reserve in April. "For example, we will be able to compare population dynamics in our forest to oak-hickory forests in Indiana, maple-dominated forests in China or tropical forests in Panama.

“This type of data will be vital in the coming decades as researchers around the world monitor the impacts and feedbacks associated with global climate change. The precise mapping of these trees will also provide a spatial framework for studies of insects, fungi, soils and other aspects of the forest biota."

But getting added to the Smithsonian network was no small task. It required the painstaking work of 12 U-M and Middlebury College students who spent much of the summer tagging, mapping and measuring every tree in the plot greater than 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) in diameter at breast height. The research plot is the size of 43 football fields.

Two months and more than 45,000 trees later, the work was finally completed on Aug. 5.
The inventory plot was established in 2003 for studies of forest dynamics by Professors John Vandermeer of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Ivette Perfecto of the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

This summer's resurvey was led by David Allen, a visiting assistant professor at Middlebury. Allen is a U-M alumnus who did the fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation at the George Reserve forest inventory plot.

Michigan News press release

Previously featured on the U-M Gateway and widely covered in the media. Listen to Dick's interview on Michigan Radio on Stateside with Cynthia Canty.