Research at North America Regional Climate Centre
The North America Regional Climate Centre (NARCC) is based in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland, USA, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre (SERC). The area is part of the Eastern Deciduous Forest. The trees vary greatly in age, many having only recently regenerated from agricultural land that was poorly managed. Research indicates that the forest has been cut down at least once and maybe twice.
Forests near North America Regional Climate Centre
Research partner institution and principal investigators
Earthwatch is working with SERC at this site. It is worth explaining here the relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute based in the USA, with a number of specialist institutes. The methods used by Earthwatch at all of the five RCCs are in accordance with the Centre for Tropical Forest Sciences (CTFS), which has a network of forest research sites around the world, and is a branch of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). In the USA, Earthwatch is working with SERC, using the same CTFS methods as are employed at all the RCCs.
Volunteers from HSBC, termed 'Climate Champions', assist with data collection in the field and data entry, overseen by scientists from SERC.
The principal investigators are Dr Geoffrey (Jess) Parker, Head Scientist in the Forest Ecology Lab of SERC and Dr John Parker, Head Scientist in the Terrestrial Ecology lab at SERC. Jess Parker’s previous research concerned the effects on forests of acid deposition and the nutrient balance and microclimate of logged tropical forests. His current research involves the energy, water and carbon balances of forests, and explores how forest structure influences those functions. John Parker’s research interests include: invasive, nuisance and endangered species in aquatic, marine and terrestrial systems; global change; biodiversity and ecosystem function; community ecology; consumer-prey interactions and chemical ecology. He is leading a deer-exclusion study at SERC which is additional and supplemental to the original research.
Climate champions at SERC
Data collection methods are as described in the Research Introduction. Work started here in October 2007 and will continue to December 2011. Eight permanent 1 ha plots have been established with two levels of management and two levels of development, with two replicates of each forest type (Figure 1). There is also a 16 ha plot which is part of the network of CTFS plots around the world.
Figure 1 Plot types in the USA; there are two replicates of each type. The intact plots are also referred to as control plots.
In addition to the standard data collection, regeneration of ground vegetation is also studied, as is leaf phenology (timing of leaf growth). Stumps in the logged forests are studied to extract data from growth rings which will be related to past climate.
Invasive plants and deer
The study in the plots by John Parker looks at the separate and combined effects of invasive plants and deer on forest ecosystems. His experiment utilizes 32 deer-exclusion cages along with 32 weed-removal plots to experimentally examine how over-browsing and plant invasions interact with forest management and land use history to affect forest regeneration, understory herb diversity, and food web dynamics.
The exclusion cages and weed removal plots are 10 m x 10 m each, and situated within the eight permanent 1 ha plots already established at SERC. Invasive weed species are removed by hand each spring and summer in the “non-weed” plots, and a range of variables measured in all plots. These include plant community composition, soil moisture, soil compaction, light availability, leaf area index, insect abundance, small mammal activity and amount of course woody debris.