Director’s Note, May 2020

Photo of Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director

Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)

To the UW–Madison Arboretum Community,

I hope that you are safe and healthy, and that the hope and promise of this season and the natural world are nurturing you during this time.

Recently, Arboretum staff had the pleasure of attending a series of virtual talks by our first cohort of graduate research fellows. The fellows’ expertise in science communication (Liz Anna Kozik), forest ecology (Jared Beck), coniferous tree responses to climate extremes (Rachel Jordan), stormwater education (Theresa Vander Woude), and impacts of invasive species (Erin Crone) was a wonderful reminder of the power of scientific knowledge. We face big environmental challenges, and we need good science to help us determine how to address them. Learning from these fellows, and knowing they are starting careers that will continue to produce important knowledge, gives me great hope for the future.

This issue of our newsletter focuses on land care, but our land care practices are closely connected to research. You’ll read about the work our land care team is doing in Noe Woods; here I’ll share a few highlights from Jared Beck’s research. He studied changes in the forest structure and composition of Noe Woods, building on a data set that began with surveys by Grant Cottam in 1956. Cottam established a permanent grid system in 4.65 acres in Noe Woods, and since then every tree over 10 cm in diameter has been surveyed about every five years. Beck documented big changes over the past 20 years, with declines in both white and black oak and increases in box elder and red maple. These shifts in tree composition in Noe Woods reflect landscape-level changes, with increases in shade tolerant and fire-sensitive species as the forest canopy has closed in and impacts of long-term fire suppression have manifested. Beck also documented spatial patterns in the loss of oak trees that he hypothesized could have been driven by the spread of oak wilt.

Beck’s work in Noe Woods is part of a larger study he is conducting on patterns of tree growth and mortality in southern Wisconsin. His findings will inform forest management in many locations, including right here at the Arboretum. The work is a good example of the intertwined nature of land care and research and the importance of long-term data sets such as those maintained by the Arboretum. We are proud to support the development of new scientists through our Arboretum fellowships and to carry on the monitoring begun decades ago by Cottam and other Arboretum scientists.

—Karen Oberhauser, Arboretum director