Studying Climate Change Stress Factors and Invasive Species in Minnesota Forests

Minnesota, the home base for the Olseth Family Foundation, has a natural environment that is unique in North America. The state’s ecosystems are comprised of boreal forest (northern conifer), temperate forest (maple and oak) and prairie. All three ecosystems are vulnerable to a changing climate. As we begin a new decade, the Olseth Family Foundation is excited to champion the University of Minnesota’s Center for Forest Ecology, as both scientists and students, examine the prospects for conserving native forest biodiversity.

Currently, the Center for Forest Ecology has undertaken two interrelated projects. The first project will examine Minnesota’s Big Woods (maple, basswood, and oak) forests in Southeastern Minnesota, where only 1-2% of the original forest remains. By comparing historical records of plant species present in old growth and second growth with a current survey, the team will attempt to answer two questions: 1) can all native plant species survive on a tiny fraction of its once original area? and, 2) are the existing natural areas sufficient to maintain all native species? The second project will examine the impacts of a recently discovered infestation by jumping worms (earthworms native to Asia) to the forest. The two questions under review include: 1) are jumping worms further (in addition to habitat loss) impacting native plant diversity? and 2) are these worms impacting the ability of the soil to support forested ecosystems? Study results will be added as they become available.

As Minnesota temperatures trend upwards in the coming years and decades, it is imperative that the health of our forest ecosystems is maintained. The forests are important in sequestering carbon, providing habitat for many endemic species, and safeguarding both the tourist and lumber industries.

To learn more about the effects of climate change and invasive species on Minnesota’s ecosystems, please read the following reports (pdf format).

Side-Swiped: Ecological Cascades Emanating From Earthworm Invasions
Terrestrial Ecosystem Impacts of Sulfide Mining: Scope of Issues for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota USA
Climate-Biome Envelope Shifts Create Enormous Challenges and Novel Opportunities for Conservation
Are Secondary Forests Ready for Climate Change?
Invasive Jumping Worms Causing Forest Soil and Nutrient Erosion