Most trees larger than 5 inches in diameter were removed from the plots in April. Dead branches and other logging debris were left on the ground. Then the plots were burned in October. Image credit: Roger Hart, Michigan Photography

A University of Michigan News multi-media story featured this week on the U-M Gateway tells the story of the latest controlled burn at the U-M Biological Station in October 2017. The article features EEB’s Professor and Director of UMBS Knute Nadelhoffer, Luke Nave, EEB assistant research scientist, and EEB graduate student Buck Castillo and their research on how forests recover from these disturbances and climate change impacts.

Excerpts from the article by Jim Erickson, Michigan News, follow:

Flames leap from piles of dead pine branches as dense grey smoke billows into a cloudless sky. It’s an unseasonably warm fall day near the U-M Biological Station (UMBS). Pre-peak foliage of green and gold encircles a 2.5-acre forest plot, where all the trees larger than 5 inches in diameter have been cut and removed.

A fire crew ignites piled logging debris with drip torches containing a mix of diesel fuel and gasoline as transfixed U-M researchers look on. One can almost imagine what it was like here in Pellston, Mich., a century ago, after the land was stripped of its timber and a series of wildfires swept through, leaving a charred, denuded moonscape.

The researchers and firefighters are here to establish the sixth “burn plot” in a long-running experiment that seeks to approximate, on a tiny scale, the epic lumbering and wildfire disturbances that transformed the forest here — at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula — and throughout the Upper Great Lakes region.

“These burn plots are a time machine that allows us to look back at forests of different ages. They are a deliberately manipulated set of forests that have been, and will continue to be, a tremendous teaching and research resource,” said Nadelhoffer, one of the eager onlookers at the Oct. 10 burn.

One student using data from the latest burn is Castillo. He is studying how forest disturbances affect fungal communities in the soil. The burn findings will form a chapter in his doctoral dissertation at the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“People study mammals, salamanders, wood-decay fungi, forest composition, carbon storage and more,” ecologist and biogeochemist Nave said. “These burn plots are a well-studied place.”

Read the full Michigan News article, view a video and a slide show

Michigan Today featured the article