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Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research Site

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LTER IV: Integrated Studies of the Drivers, Dynamics, and Consequences of Landscape Change in New England  (Harvard University)

Research Focus

At the Harvard Forest LTER Site, more than 3,500 acres of land provide a living laboratory for scientists to explore topics ranging from conservation and environmental change to land-use history and the ways in which physical, biological and human systems interact to affect forests in New England and beyond. The site provides the longest-running time-series measurements of forest carbon exchange.

The research at Harvard Forest LTER emphasizes is on processes including:

  • wind and fire
  • past climate change
  • land-use and land cover dynamics
  • atmospheric pollution, especially nitrogen deposition and ozone
  • projected increases in global temperature
  • land management, land policy and conservation

Research Outcomes

One Harvard Forest LTER study examined the ecosystem level consequences of the regional spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae )--an invasive insect--on carbon dynamics in Eastern U.S. forests. The results forecasted an initial decrease followed by a net increase in carbon uptake as the eastern hemlock is lost from eastern U.S. forests and replaced by hardwood.

A study published in 2011 showed, for the first time in a field experiment, that warmer temperatures stimulate carbon gain in trees as woody tissues, partially offsetting the soil carbon loss to the atmosphere. The carbon gains in trees are due to more nitrogen being made available to the trees with warmer soil.

In a project that uses the power of digital imagery to capture evidence of climate change in forests, a team of scientists and undergraduates deployed video cameras in the Harvard Forest canopy. That move resulted in publicly accessible, web-based streams of real-time, fine-scale and high-frequency data on forest dynamics. By providing cost-effective, unbiased data, the project minimizes the need for subjective, labor-intensive human observations and overcomes the limitations of coarse-scale, infrequent observations made by satellites. The project also laid the foundation for a scientifically rigorous, continental-scale "Phenological Observatory" that provides real-time indicators of how a changing climate is changing natural ecosystems. The "Phenocam" network links web-cameras at national parks and research sites.

Education & Outreach

In the Harvard Forest Schoolyard LTER program, teachers learn about and initiate ecology research in their classrooms and schoolyards. Formal training and project materials are provided to teacher participants. Students learn to collect data on important long-term ecological issues and processes. Student data are then shared on the Harvard Forest website.

Informal and formal learning opportunities for local and regional schools include field trips at its Fisher Museum and long-term research sites. Harvard Forest also provides internship opportunities for high school or community college students to participate in research projects.

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  • close-up of hemlock sprig with needles, sprig stem shows wool from adelgid pest
Signs of hemlock woolly adelgid
Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan

Award Highlights Related to This Asset

Harvard Forest

Tracking Changes in the Forest Canopy to Better Understand Climate Change Effects

A team of scientists and undergraduates has deployed video cameras in Harvard Forest ...

Research Areas: Biology, Earth & Environment, Education

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