Recovering from natural disasters usually means rebuilding infrastructure and reassembling human lives. Yet ecologically sensitive areas need to heal, too, and scientists are pioneering new methods to assess nature's recovery and guide human intervention.
The epicenter of China's devastating Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 was in the Wolong Nature Reserve, a globally important valuable biodiversity hotspot and home to the beloved and endangered giant pandas. Not only did the quake devastate villages and roads, but the earth split open and swallowed sections of the forests and bamboo groves that shelter and feed pandas and other endangered wildlife. Persistent landslides and erosion exacerbated the devastation.
Typically such natural damage is assessed with remote sensing, which can be limited in fine details. Scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) and in China embarked on a dangerous boots-on-the-ground effort to understand how well the trees, bamboo and critical ground cover were recovering. Their work, which is relevant to disaster areas worldwide, is reported in this week's Forest Ecology and Management.
"Across the world, people are investing billions of dollars to protect valuable natural areas, as well as making enormous investments in restoring such areas after natural disasters," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, director of MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, and a co-author. "It's important we develop ways to understand the fine points of how well recovery efforts are working, so we can direct resources in the right places effectively."
Jindong Zhang, a post-doctoral research associate in CSIS, spent several months over a period of four years in Wolong dodging landslides, mudslides and rubble strewn roads to survey forest recovery at a finer scale than can be observed from satellites and getting a better handle on the nuances of tree species, height and soil conditions. The data was then com
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Michigan State University