Importance of Natural Resources

From Disaster Comes Diversity – Mark Swanson, Forest Ecologist

In 1980, early investigators were very much daunted by the landscape that lay before them. It was very much gray and ash covered and there’s a lot of dead wood, snags and logs which added to that visual appearance. But pretty soon they realized that life was coming back relatively quickly. There were a lot of various expectations prior to the eruption in the scientific community, but I don’t think any of those expectations really included the diversity we’ve seen in different landscape positions and as a function of pre-eruption conditions. And so to me, the diversity is really the surprising story, just how diverse this landscape really is in terms of the plant community. In one of our permanent plots at a place called Meta Lake, just a small plot, 250 meters squared, held more than 80 herb species, more than 15 shrub species, and six or seven tree species, so extraordinarily diverse. And this is because you had a surviving forest community from underneath a protective snow bank, and that was joined by a number of species that are obligates on disturbance, or are adapted to coming into post-disturbance systems. One of the primary lessons from Mount St. Helens is that most disturbances really leave a lot behind, both living organisms, as well as a lot of dead material. And what this does is this really facilitates the recovery of the system, the living organisms reproduce and spread, and then the dead material is also important because it provides habitat niches for those organisms that are re-colonizing.

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