Around the Island

Mashomack Musings: Measuring change

Have you ever walked through an area and noticed changes over time? If left uncut, lawns grow into young meadows, and vacant lots grow up into shrubs and trees. These are easily observed examples of succession.

Here on Shelter Island (and everywhere else in the world) our forests are also in a state of change. The understory, the canopy, the climate, the soil and all the organisms that interact with a forest can easily dictate the makeup of an area.

This summer, as is done every five years, the Mashomack Preserve staff are examining 30 wide-spread plots and documenting the species and size classes of trees — seedlings vs. saplings vs. adult.

Initiated in 2000, this long-term forest health project is designed to monitor how different areas of forest change over time, giving insight to the succession and regeneration in various preserve locations.

From this data, we are able to find which species are present and their rates of growth, which supplies further information to analyze, and which factors are influencing our forests. For example, our deer population greatly impacts many tree seedlings, causing differences in forest makeup.

You might ask, why does this matter? Forests are especially important because they sequester carbon, which humans are producing at unprecedented rates. Although there are 3.1 trillion trees on our planet, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing daily, causing a climate crisis. We owe our trees everything for the oxygen they provide and the carbon they absorb.

In order to continue protecting the lands on which we rely, we must do our part in better understanding our surroundings.