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Terri Greene

Last modified: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Smithsonian Institution to put IU Research and Teaching Preserve forest into global research network

April 25, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has partnered with Indiana University researchers to collect data for a project aimed at understanding the long-term dynamics of forests. Researchers will map and identify every tree in a 62-acre area.

The research will take place in Lilly-Dickey Woods, a 550-acre forest in Brown County donated to IU by the Lilly and Dickey families in 1942 during Herman B Wells' tenure as university president. At the time of the gift, Wells said it was clearly understood by the university that the area was to be kept natural.


Daniel Johnson measures the diameter of a white ash tree.

Print-Quality Photo

Lilly-Dickey Woods is part of the IU Research & Teaching Preserve and is valued as a central hardwoods forest where human management has been minimal for the previous 150 years. Parts of the woods contain some of the largest trees to be found in Indiana forests. The forest lies near the center of The Nature Conservancy's Brown County Hills region, which has been targeted as a prime location for forest conservation.

IU's involvement with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute project evolved from the research of Daniel Johnson, a graduate student in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology. "I wanted to start a project for my Ph.D. thesis that would outlast my time here at IU," Johnson said.

The project has been funded by the IU Research & Teaching Preserve, the Indiana Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation. Keith Clay, professor of biology and director of the IURTP, and Richard Phillips, assistant professor of biology, also will oversee the project.

"This project is an enormous undertaking," Clay said. "Dan will be creating a substantial legacy. The project will not only provide a resource for future environmental science research at IU, but the data collected also will be used by scientists throughout the world to answer critical questions about climate change and other environmental issues. The project shines a light on the value of IURTP resources to the university and the global scientific community."

Johnson has completed 22 acres of the initial survey. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute collaboration will increase the area of study to a 62-acre area of Lilly-Dickey Woods. Johnson and his crew will follow the network's strict protocol when they identify, measure and map every tree and shrub within the area. All woody plants will be remeasured every five years to track changes in forest biomass and mortality.

The IU forest will become a part of the Smithsonian's Center for Tropical Forest Science-Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-SIGEO), a global network of forest research plots committed to the study of tropical and temperate forest function and diversity. IU researchers will collaborate with scientists from 46 forest research plots around the world to monitor changes in forests. The Lilly-Dickey Woods site will be the second Midwestern U.S. forest in the global network of forest plots.

Data compiled from the network will allow scientists to better understand and compare the dynamics of multiple types of forests over time. Because every plot follows the same methodology, scientists can directly compare data collected from different forests around the world and detect patterns that would otherwise be impossible to recognize. The resulting data will help monitor the dynamics and health of local forests and their role in the global carbon cycle.

Stuart Davies, CTFS-SIGEO director, is pleased about the new forest observatory. "This provides an important new site for the network," he said. "By expanding the spatial coverage of forest observatories in the United States, our ability to understand the role that temperate forest ecosystems play in the global environment will be greatly enhanced."

CTFS-SIGEO is a multi-institutional network that includes plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe, with a strong focus on tropical regions. Network scientists monitor the growth and survival of about 4.5 million trees of approximately 8,500 species in 21 different countries. Research aims to increase the scientific understanding of forest ecosystems, guide sustainable forest management and natural-resource policy, monitor the impacts of climate change and build capacity in forest science. Monitoring so many forest plots at once is providing a comprehensive, yet locally detailed perspective on how the world's forests are being transformed by global change.

The IU Research & Teaching Preserve manages 1,600 acres of protected natural areas for university research, teaching and outreach.