An Alabama forest hosts research that could shape the future of forests worldwide.
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The Nature Conservancy’s 4,000-acre Sharp Bingham Preserve on the slopes of the stunning Paint Rock River Valley is the project’s permanent home.
Scientist from UCLA and Alabama universities are partnering with the Smithsonian Institute’s ForestGEO program, The Nature Conservancy and other research centers to set up a massive natural laboratory covering hundreds of acres.
The complex geology and extraordinary biological diversity of the site make it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for understanding how species and ecosystems assemble and survive. Data from this site will tell us how forests have survived past climate upheavals and how they’re likely to fare as climate changes again.
As part of a special program to encourage minority student participation in cutting-edge scientific research, Smithsonian will be partnering with Alabama A&M University to set up and monitor the forest research plots.
There are few other places in North America as well suited for this effort as Paint Rock Valley in the Southern Cumberlands.
These slopes are packed with an unusually large number of oak, hickory, ash, elm, maple and buckeye tree species, along with rare species like yellowwood, limerock arrow wood, and the legendary American smoketrees that are found in few other places in the world.
Understanding how so many tree species lost to much of the world managed to survive here will help us guide all forests through future climate upheavals.
The work here will also help us identify which forests and species are most in need of our conservation efforts.
These forests will be mapped with a mind-boggling intensity –– every tree and shrub larger than a pencil will be identified and monitored for a lifetime.
But all of Paint Rock’s rich biological diversity will be monitored closely, including its rich assortment of wildflowers.
These slopes tumble 1000 feet or more over springs, streams and caves into deep mountainside sinks, fostering and protecting millions of years of evolution. What will they tell us about the future of all forests?