Forest response to disturbance and anthropogenic stress

TitleForest response to disturbance and anthropogenic stress
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsFoster, D, Aber, D, Melillo, JM, Bowden, RD, Bazzaz, FA
Accession NumberLUQ.169
Keywordstemperate forest

Temperate forests of the north-eastern United States are very dynamic ecosystems that have been shaped through a geological and historical time by climate change, natural disturbance, and human activity (Davis 1986, Peterken 1993, Whitney 1994). Particularly noticeable through a retrospective view is the remarkable resiliency of these forests to a wide range if physical disturbance, including wind-throw, fire, and land clearance (Boose et al. 1993, Foster 1994, Motzkin et al. 1996, Raup 1964). Despite this resiliency, novel environmental stresses may surpass the abilit of these forests to control important ecosystem processes (Likens et al. 1996). For instance, changes in the global earth-atmosphere system resulting from industrial an human land-use activities have increased the disposition of air pollution and may rapidly alter energy budgets in the north-temperate regions. Ecologists, natural resource managers, and policy makers are faced with the question of whether temperate forests are resilient (and/or resistant) to chronic chemical and climatic stress as they are to natural physical disturbance. The Harvard Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program was initiated in 1988 to address this and related questions by analyzing and comparing the effects on ecosystem structure and function of both historically important natural disturbances and recent and projected chemical and climatic stresses. The disturbance and stress processes investigated include hurricane blowdown, an infrequent, catastrophic disturbance to New England forests (Foster 1998a, Foster and Boose 1995); chronic additions of nitrogen, a novel stress resulting from fossil fuel combustion that may lead to nitrogen saturation (Aber et al. 1989); and soil warming, and important component of projected global climate change that may affect critical ecosystem processes (Peterjohn et al. 1993).