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Diversity From Above
Teacher Contributed

Diversity From Above

Why It Matters

It's Not All About The Tropics

Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) have long been known for their beauty and size. But until relatively recently redwood forests were considered to be comparatively species poor. The shading effect of the tall trees, their high disease and fire resistance, as well as their ability to acidify soils around them were all thought to act in concert to keep overall ecosystem diversity down. In short, it was felt it was pretty hard to compete with these long lived trees in their environment. But this impression came from walking through redwood forests, not from looking up. As with many things in science and life looking back it seems obvious, but it wasn't and the first people to penetrate the canopies entered a world that had totally escaped everyone's notice. A world to rival the well touted diversity of the tropical rainforests; the world of temperate rainforests.

For those of you not fortunate enough to see these magnificent titans in person, watch this video to gain a feeling for what it's like to walk through a redwood forest. Take note of the number of different plants you can see on the forest floor. Look for the patterns which exist in this system.

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Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. What did most scientists expect to find when they first entered the redwood canopy?
  2. How thick can the soil become in the canopies of temperate rainforests? How does this depth compare to the height of planter boxes you may have seen?
  3. Who is the top predator in the canopy ecosystem? What important requirement does this ecosystem provide for this predator apart from prey?
  4. How does the detailed quantification of this ecosystem provide a solid starting point for future research? Was this basic or applied research?
  5. How much of the older redwoods is it estimated have been cut? No one knew about these canopy communities when much of this logging was being done (except probably the loggers), but now that we do, how do you think the ecosystem could be impacted by the practice of cutting older more financially valuable trees?
  6. What forests currently hold the record for the highest biomass on the planet?

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