New Jersey sees benefits of storms for forest biodiversity

Friday, December 7, 2012

Healthy, large trees have fallen at unprecedented rates in the last two years, each time from a different cause. Irene turned wetland and floodplain soils to pudding, toppling trees with rampaging floodwaters. The Halloween snowstorm caused huge branches and trunks to split and crack high above ground, creating broken-off “snags.” And Sandy pulverized exposed eastern slopes and hilltops with fierce gusts, uprooting trees.

You may think that messy-looking forests need to be cleaned up. But, according to New Jersey Conservation Foundation ecologist Dr. Emile DeVito, this type of devastation has happened a thousand times before in the eastern deciduous forest and can actually be beneficial. Natural calamities trigger an ecological process known as “gap-phase succession,” causing an explosion of biodiversity as plants seedlings and saplings compete for light and space.