The Secret Life of Mountain Ecosystems
We all see the largest features of mountain ecosystems—the impressively rugged peaks, the clear blue lakes, and the extensive forests—but each of these readily visible features depends on largely invisible creatures and flows of material and energy. Something Hidden in the Ranges draws on a wide array of scientific research to reveal the complex ecology of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and, by extension, of mountain ecosystems generally.
Geologist Ellen Wohl has spent three decades investigating the streams and forests near her home in Colorado. In writing that is free from jargon and easy to understand, she tells the intricate story of how streams provide energy to adjacent forests, how lake sediments record the history of wind-blown pollutants, and how hidden networks of fungi keeps forests healthy. She guides readers through forests at both lower and higher elevations, revealing how trees rely on microbes in the soil, in the forest canopy, and even within individual pine needles to obtain the food they need. Other chapters focus on subalpine lakes, mountain streams, beaver meadows, and alpine tundra.
While scientists, students, and scholars will benefit from Wohl’s intimate knowledge of mountain ecosystems, Something Hidden in the Ranges is written for anyone interested in natural or environmental history. It will change the way readers perceive and think about natural landscapes.
The Afterlife of Trees
The west is full of magnificent trees: mighty spruces, towering cedars, and stout firs. We are used to appreciating trees during their glory years, but how often do we consider what happens to a tree when it dies? We’ve all seen driftwood on the beach. But how many people have truly looked at it and appreciated its ecological role?
Ellen Wohl has thought about these questions, and In Dead Wood, she takes us through the afterlife of trees, describing the importance of standing and downed dead wood in forests, in rivers, along beaches, in the open ocean, and even at the deepest parts of the seafloor. Downed wood in the forest provides habitat for diverse plants and animals, and the progressive decay of the wood releases nutrients into the soil. Wood in rivers provides critical habitat for stream insects and fish and can accumulate in logjams that divert the river repeatedly across the valley floor, creating a floodplain mosaic that is rich in habitat and biodiversity. Driftwood on the beach helps to stabilize shifting sand, creating habitat for plants and invertebrates. Fish such as tuna congregate at driftwood in the open ocean. As driftwood becomes saturated and sinks to the ocean floor, collections of sunken wood provide habitat and nutrients for deep-sea organisms. Far from being an unsightly form of waste that needs to be cleaned from forests, beaches, and harbors, dead wood is a critical resource for many forms of life.
Dead Wood follows the afterlives of three trees: a spruce in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that remains on the floodplain after death; a redcedar in Washington that is gradually transported downstream to the Pacific; and a poplar in the Mackenzie River of Canada that is transported to the Arctic Ocean. With these three trees, Wohl encourages readers to see beyond landscapes, to appreciate the ecological processes that drive rivers and forests and other ecosystems, and demonstrates the ways that the life of an ecosystem carries on even when individual members of that system have died. Readers will discover that trees can have an exceptionally rich afterlife—one tightly interwoven with the lives of humans and ecosystems.
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