Airdate: Aug 04, 2008
Scientist: Steve Sillett
Science Diary: Redwoods - Ecosystem Aloft
When forest fires burn through a stand of redwoods, they can leave rotten, spongy pockets in which plants thrive.
BC: "How high up are we?"
SS: "We're about 270 feet. It's got several thousand fern fronds, and a soil layer about three feet deep."
Looking up a 300-foot redwood tree from the ground can be awe-inspiring, but you may not realize there's a whole other world up there in the canopy of these giants. Steve Sillett, an ecologist at Humboldt State University, finds himself amid ferns and berry bushes, growing in three feet of dirt, and thriving 270 feet above the ground. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Today, Sillett is working in California's Prairie Creek Redwood State Park; he's with arborist Bryan Kotwica, and they're atop a tree they call "Adventure."
"So Bryan and I here are in the bowels of Adventure, where there is a big series of fire caves and hanging masses of dead wood and rot here that has the texture of Stilton cheese."
When forest fires burn through a stand of redwoods, they can leave large hollowed out fire caves within the trunks; they provide rotten, spongy pockets in which plants thrive.
"Lots of evidence of burns over the last several centuries. And we're hanging basically right above the creek. So despite the fact that the tree completely burned and hollowed out, it recovered because it had plenty of water. We're interested in quantifying how much water is stored in these rot pockets to allow the huckleberry bushes to thrive. Even in dry years, they seem to have plenty of water to make berries."
We'll hear more about the unique world that exists high into the redwoods in future programs.
Check out our new science competition for 3rd to 6th graders, at "Kid Science Challenge.com." Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.