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Writings by Andrea Watts

Articles on sustainable forestry, agriculture, and other topics

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Science Writing

Counting carbon: Calculating how headwater streams contribute to the carbon cycle

 

 

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
December 2018

Pacific Northwest forests play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. Because they sequester atmospheric carbon, they are considered long-term carbon sinks when one is calculating the carbon budget for the region. Yet a forested landscape is more than trees; numerous headwater streams are tucked within the landscape. As these headwater streams transport water downstream, carbon hitches a ride.

This carbon is derived from a number of sources. When leaf litter rots in the stream, carbon is released. Fish and other organisms living in the stream respire carbon dioxide (CO2), and even microbial communities buried beneath the streambanks respire carbon as a byproduct of their metabolism. The amount of carbon exported by these sources, however, is largely unknown. Compared to larger rivers, few data are available on headwater streams and their role in cycling carbon. Read more…

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The Recovery of Soil Fungi Following a Fire

 

 

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
June 2018

If all the fungi within a half gram of forest soil were lined up, they would form a line that’s half a mile long. That same half gram of soil includes bacteria that number in the hundreds of thousands. These fungi and bacteria, through their nutrient cycling and other valuable ecosystem services, sustain the forests that dominate the Pacific Northwest. It’s why mycologists joke that trees are the photosynthetic appendages of fungi.

“Fungi play so many critical roles in the soils and for the trees,” explains Jane Smith, a research botanist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. “For example, saprobic fungi decompose plant materials and cycle nutrients that the plants can absorb, and ectomycorrhizal fungi, which colonize roots of trees and shrubs, bring nutrients to the plants in exchange for the carbon produced during photosynthesis.” Read more…

River food webs: Incorporating nature’s invisible fabric into river management

 

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
April 2018

Increasing the population of spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead in Washington state’s Methow River is a goal of the Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan. Spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead are listed as endangered and threatened, respectively, under the Endangered Species Act.

Installing logjams and reconnecting the river to its floodplain are management actions being undertaken to restore salmon habitat. However, researchers with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Idaho State University found that focusing solely on physical habitat restoration overlooks the importance of maintaining the food webs supporting all river life. Read more…

Can We Store Carbon and Have Our Timber and Habitat Too?

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
November 2017

We ask a lot of our national forests. They are our recreation destinations, while providing habitat for numerous wildlife and plant species. They are a source of timber that supports jobs for rural communities and our cities’ water supplies. And they are vital in our nation’s efforts to address climate change.

“Forests store most of the carbon on the Earth’s surface, so forests are really important from a carbon perspective,” says Warren Cohen, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station. Read more…

 

There’s carbon in them thar hills: But how much? Could Pacific Northwest forests store more?

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
April 2017

As a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States annually compiles a report on the nation’s carbon flux—the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere compared to the amount stored by terrestrial landscapes. Forests store vast amounts of carbon, but it’s not fully understood how a forest’s storage capacity fluctuates as stands age or respond to disturbance. Read more…

The Idiosyncrasies of Streams: Local Variability Mitigates Vulnerability of Trout to Changing Conditions

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
November 2016

Land use and climate change are two key factors with the potential to affect stream conditions and fish habitat. Since the 1950s, Washington and Oregon have required forest practices designed to mitigate the effects of timber harvest on streams and fish. Yet questions remain about the extent to which these practices are effective. Add in the effects of climate change—lower summer flow and warmer water temperatures in some streams— and more questions arise. Read more…

Flows of the Future: How will climate change affect streamflows in the Pacific Northwest?

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
July 2016

Much of the water supply in the Pacific Northwest originates in national forests. It sustains the region’s aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, hydroelectric power, and community water supplies. Understanding how climate change will affect water supply is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Substantial changes are projected in the types of precipitation (rain vs. snow) that will fall in the region, as are smaller, but potentially important, changes in the total annual precipitation. Combined with earlier snowmelt, these changes could cause decreased summer streamflows, and some high-elevation streams may dry up. Read more…

Rise and shine: How do northwest trees know when winter is over?

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
March 2016

Trees bursting forth with new leaves signal the arrival of spring. Budburst for most temperate tree species occurs after a tree has been exposed to a sufficient number of chilling and forcing hours over the winter. Waiting until these chilling and forcing hours have accumulated is a survival mechanism.

To identify the chilling and forcing requirements of 11 common Pacific Northwest tree species, scientists with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station exposed seedlings to various combinations of chilling and forcing temperatures. Read more…

Predicting Douglas-Fir’s Response to a Warming Climate

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Science Findings
November 2015

Douglas-fir is an iconic tree in the Pacific Northwest. Although individual trees may appear to be identical, genetic differences within each tree have resulted from adaptation to the local environment. These genetic differences over time have resulted in differences among populations that are important to the species’ survival and growth in changing climates.

Researchers with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station tested how seedlings from different populations of Douglas-fir would grow in temperature and precipitation conditions unlike the climate of their current seed source. Read more…

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