Rings and Cores
Research forester Stacy Clark uses dendrochronology-the study of tree rings-to continue a 23-year old study in Dick's Cove, in Sewanee, TN. Oaks in the cove regenerated after the Civil War, probably from harvesting used to rebuild the nearby University of the South. The forest, part of the 10,000- acre Domain owned by the university, hasn't been actively managed since. Clark is working closely with University of the South forestry faculty member Scott Torreano to rebuild the stand's disturbance history.
Gene McGee, project leader for a research unit once housed on the Sewanee campus, started the study in the early 1980s. "McGee noticed that the northern red oaks and hickories in the cove were dying at a faster than normal rate, so he started surveying all the dead trees, taking cores to get their ages," says Clark. "Then he put in permanent plots to tally regeneration and the overstory trees. He confirmed that the trees were dying, but never figured out exactly why."
Two decades later Clark relocated McGee's original plots, resurveying, coring, and restructuring the data to reevaluate the situation on about 70 acres of the cove. She's found an incredible diversity of trees and shrubs: northern red oak, chinkapin oak, American elm, green and white ash, pawpaw, bladdernuts, redbud, deciduous holly, spicebush, blueberries, huckleberries, and many more.
Clark adds her expertise in dendrochronology to the mix, looking at tree rings to take a fresh look at why oaks and hickories were dying in the 1980s, and how the stands are changing in structure over time. "I'm basically reconstructing the stand history through the tree rings, trying to determine both what established the stand in the 1880s and what caused the decline a century later," says Clark. "The data contributes to our overall knowledge of upland hardwood regeneration in the Cumberland Plateau area."