A little more than a year ago, an arborist working at the Kichler Landscape Lighting Center in central Minnesota found a large patch of thick undergrowth with a clear path from a tree.
It was the first documented instance of this kind of forest, he told Recode.
The problem: A single seedling had grown to more than 200 feet in height and was so close to a large, tree-covered hill that it had fallen into a nearby pond.
The forest’s thick canopy had already been damaged by a drought, and the trees and grasses that made up the undergrowth were dead.
The seeds were dead, and their seedlings could not be replanted.
The seedlings would die.
The ecosystem was at risk.
Kichlers’ vision for the forest was to create a “forest sanctuary” in which animals could thrive in a more natural way.
The idea came to Kichers cofounder, Scott Thrasher, in 2009.
Thrashers’ work had been helping to protect wildlife from habitat loss through his nonprofit, Save the Wild, a project aimed at promoting conservation through education and research.
The foundation had created a large database of data on forest habitats, and Thrasers began to think about how to turn that data into a more complete understanding of forest ecosystems.
“I was thinking, ‘Why is it that we have no idea what these plants do in the forest?'”
Thrashels told Recoding.
“Why do we have these big forests where we have this big canopy and no canopy?'”
That question drove Thrashere’s thinking.
He decided to start a forest research group in 2009 at the University of Minnesota.
Since then, he has published research papers on the biology of forest plants, and he helped organize a conference called The World Beyond the Tree.
A year later, he started a website called Kichlingland to share his research.
“It was like the first time I started a blog,” he said.
He called it a way to connect with other forest ecologists and researchers.
“People would call me and say, ‘Hey, I’m a forest ecologist, and I want to learn more about this.’
It’s really fun to learn and get a little bit of feedback.”
His site has grown to a few thousand subscribers.
Thashere has also helped create several websites about other topics related to forestry and nature, including the North American Biodiversity Institute, which works with the public to better understand how forests work and how their natural history and habitats are affected by human activities.
His interest in wildlife is so deep, he said, that he started to learn about it in his spare time.
For example, he read an article in Nature about how the species of woodpecker that eats aphids in the U.S. is often threatened by a new species that is more resistant to them.
“They said the woodpeckers could get wiped out if they got too close to the aphids,” he recalled.
“What was happening in the wild was that the wood peckers were being wiped out, and this new species was doing the opposite.”
The woodpeaker is a species of bird that nests in the ground.
In recent years, there have been a lot of cases where woodpecks have been killed by aphids.
Thats a good example of how people can start to understand how nature can be affected by things like human activity.
“A lot of what I do as a scientist is get to understand the dynamics of what’s going on in the world,” he told us.
“That’s really where the research comes in.”