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The 100-Year Forest Experiment

Smithsonian Environmental Research ­Center in for the long haul

Ecologist John Parker checks on a sycamore sappling at the experimental forsest at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. <<photo courtesy of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center >>

If you’ve ever planted a tree in your back yard, you’ve experienced the thrill of watching it grow from a ­knobby sapling into a towering oak or weeping willow. Multiply that by 20,000, and you’ll have some idea what Smithsonian ecologist John Parker is doing in his experimental forest in Edgewater.
    It’s called BiodiversiTree, and the project is designed to last a century. On March 15, Parker explains the project in a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center evening lecture.
    Three years ago, the areas where the forest now stands were cornfields. In 2013, researchers and volunteers descended on the fields, battling wind, sleet and snow in a race to plant the young seedlings. More than 100 volunteer citizen-scientists helped plant the 20,000 trees. Over 90 percent of those trees survived their first year in the ground. Now, Parker is focused on caring for the forest and getting data.
    BiodiversiTree takes its name from what it measures: biodiversity. Parker wants to understand how diversity impacts ecosystem function. In other words, is a diverse forest a better forest? Will it shelter more animals, bury more carbon, keep more pollution out of the Bay?
    To find answers, the forest is divided into smaller plots. Some have only one species, like oak, hickory, or sycamore. Others have four or 12 different species.
    So far, their data show diversity leads to more stability, similar to investing in a mutual fund versus a single company. But the project has only begun. Citizen scientists welcome.

BiodiversiTree: The 100-Year-Forest Experiment: ­Tuesday, March 15 7pm, the Schmidt Conference Center. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Evening holds free lectures on the third Tuesday of every month, March through November: