Tornadoes, windstorms pave way for lasting plant invasions | 5/10/2019 | Staff
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When tornadoes touch down, we brace for news of property damage, injuries, and loss of life, but the high-speed wind storms wreak environmental havoc, too. They can cut through massive swaths of forest, destroying trees and wildlife habitat, and opening up opportunities for invasive species to gain ground.

A new University of Illinois study, published in the Journal of Ecology, shows that large blowdown areas in southern Illinois forests are more heavily invaded and slower to recover than smaller areas. The research guides management decisions for windstorm-prone forests.

Imagery - Surveys - Plants - Series - Tornado

"We used satellite imagery and grueling on-the-ground surveys to look at what was happening with invasive plants after a series of windstorms—a tornado in 2006, a derecho in 2009, and another tornado in 2017—hit southern Illinois forests," says Eric Larson, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I and co-author on the study. "We assume the forest recovers and those invaders get shaded out, but they may not. They could potentially prevent forest recovery or spread into surrounding areas."

Melissa Daniels, a former graduate student who led the project, adds, "Forest health impacts all of us. Forests provide a lot of important ecosystem services, including biodiversity and carbon sequestration, things that are important for our well-being as a society. We should all care about phenomena that impact our forests."

Larson - Daniels - Areas - Storms - Landsat

Larson and Daniels identified blowdown areas after each of the three storms using Landsat satellite imagery. For each affected area, the team identified a matching forest parcel, similar in tree type, size, elevation, slope, and distance to roads and trails, that had not been impacted by storms. Then Daniels visited all 62 sites in the summer of 2018 to survey for invasive plants.

"It was hands-down one of the most difficult things I've ever done, and I do a lot of...
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