Earthworms can jump

A worm is a worm is a worm, right? Except that there are more than 7,000 species of worms, and the longer you look, the more complex their world becomes. Earthworms compete. Earthworms invade. Earthworms… jump? “Invasive Asian jumping worms got their name because of the way they thrash around,” says Mac Callaham, a Forest…  More 

Without fire, trees become more susceptible to it

Historically, fires frequently burned Southern Appalachian forests. Many tree species evolved traits that aided survival in this fire environment. However, with the exclusion of fire from these forests for many decades, new research suggests traits that once made trees resistant to fire may now make them more susceptible to it. USDA Forest Service scientists Melanie…  More 

Research spans the South: Cross-site studies of the Experimental Forest Network

A small team of USDA Forest Service employees are making huge contributions to the SRS Experimental Forest Network. Chuck Burdine and Bryan Mudder are key members of this team. For the past two years, they have been on temporary assignments as western and eastern regional coordinators, respectively. “When I took on the regional coordinator role,…  More 

Prescribed Fire Effects on Soil Fertility

USDA Forest Service researcher John Butnor wondered how dormant-season prescribed fire affects forest soil fertility in the months after a burn. Do nutrients from burned pine straw, grasses, and woody debris remain in the forest? Others have studied soil a year or more after a prescribed burn. Butnor’s research compares soil chemistry before burning and…  More 

New Science Synthesis on Soils and Soil Management

We don’t often think about what’s underneath our feet, but soils are essential for the food we eat, building materials for our homes, the clean water we drink, storing carbon and mitigating climate change, even the air we breathe. Our health and well-being depend on healthy soils. It may be time to take a closer…  More 

Lessons from Forest Soils Research

“Soils are the foundation of everything in terms of growth and productivity,” says USDA Forest Service researcher Jennifer Knoepp. Knoepp explains that “soils have integrated all the conditions that have resulted from the growth of an ecosystem” and thus reflect the past and present vegetation, climate, and biology. This profound interaction between soils and life…  More 

Bottomland Hardwood Restoration – What Happens Belowground?

If something looks like a forest, does it act like a forest? U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Mac Callaham, along with several colleagues, asked that question about bottomland hardwoods in west-central Mississippi. “Back in the late 1960s, there was a soybean boom, and a lot of bottomland forests were cleared for farming,” says Callaham. However,…  More 

Topography and Drought

The planet is changing, and the hydrologic cycle will change along with it. Extreme droughts – as well as extremely wet weather – are expected to become more frequent and more intense. “These changes may interact with topography to affect species composition in unexpected ways,” says Chelcy Miniat. Miniat is a researcher and project leader…  More 

Forests, Farms, or Houses?

Molecules relentlessly cycle from one form to another. “Simple human activities, such as building homes, can affect these cycles,” says U.S. Forest Service research soil scientist Jennifer Knoepp. For example, trees growing near streams affect the way nitrogen and other nutrients move from the land to the water. “Riparian zones play a critical role in…  More 

Into the Rhizosphere: Soil Fungi and Carbon Dynamics

Underneath the Earth’s surface, water, nutrients, and chemical signals are shuttled through a sprawling network between tree roots and soil fungi. “Many forest trees depend on their associated soil fungi for nutrients, as the fungi are better at absorbing nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients,” says U.S. Forest Service ecologist Melanie Taylor. “The trees return the…  More