For the December webinar we were joined by Henry Yeung and Dr. Justin Wright to talk about the many aspects of ghost forests. Henry Yeung is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, studying plants and climate change using remote sensing. Dr. Justin Wright is a plat ecologist interested in uncovering the causes of ecosystem patterns. Both are interested in ghost forests.
Henry has been able to create a fairly accurate model to predict where dead trees are located based on spectral imagery from the sky. He has also been able to identify the areas that are more difficult for the model to identify. With this accuracy, he has been able to apply the model across the entire eastern coast (Virginia to New Hampshire). Using the large area of tree mortality, Henry could start identifying trends in the data. Henry has been able to identify that mortality varies strongly with elevation but differs across regions. Most mortality happens below 10 meters of sea level and the Mid-Atlantic wetlands are experiencing substantial forest mortality. Specifically, the states of Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia are experiencing the most freshwater forest mortality. Using this model we have increased our understanding of U.S. east coast ghost forests, providing a method for other areas to do the same.
Looking at ghost forests at these large scales provides us with generalizable information, however, it is potentially missing the landscape-specific changes that can cause increased or decreased forest mortality. Dr. Justin Wright has decided to create a team focused on understanding the history of places where we see these large swaths of ghost forests. In general, he has found that when researchers are trying to understand why land has been heavily impacted, our immediate thought is to the present - what are the species located there, what is the hydrology of the area, etc. But what we are seeing is the history of the landscape that is influencing trends present to this day. Therefore, a newly funded project to work with the Forest History Society will be compiling the history of coastal North Carolina which will highlight the history of the ghost forests that Henry is seeing from remote sensing. The big question now, is how do we scale up the history of landscapes impacted by SWISLR?
Both projects are focused on ghost forests, and although they cover very different aspects of tree mortality, they are both focused on understanding the patterns of mortality and how we can potentially protect, or at least predict, the loss of our forested wetlands.