Tuesday, August 7th 2012, 6:23 AM EDT
ScienceDaily (Aug. 6, 2012) — Forests hammered by windstorms, avalanches and wildfires may appear blighted, but a Washington State University researcher says such disturbances can be key to maximizing an area's biological diversity.
In fact, says Mark Swanson, land managers can alter their practices to enhance such diversity, creating areas with a wide variety of species, including rare and endangered plants and animals.
"The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, for example, has created very diverse post-eruption conditions, and has some of the highest plant and animal diversity in the western Cascades range," says Mark Swanson, an assistant professor of landscape ecology and silviculture in Washington State University's School of the Environment.
Swanson, who has studied disturbed areas on Mount St. Helens and around western North America, presents his findings this week at the national convention of the Ecological Society of America in Portland.
His findings run counter to a widely held perception that most, if not all rare species tend to require older forests, not younger. In fact, he says, a substantial proportion of Washington's state-protected forest plants and animals spend some or all of their life cycle in areas rebounding from a major disturbance. That's because such habitats often include woody debris and snags, varied landscape patterns, and a rich diversity of plants that can be exploited for food and shelter.
"Severe fire in the northern Rockies creates conditions for some rare birds that depend on abundant dead trees, like the black-backed woodpecker," says Swanson. "It can benefit a host of other organisms, too, like elk, deer, bighorn sheep, some frog species, and many more."
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