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The Biography of an Ecosystem

by Jon R. Luoma

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-1491-8
Publisher: Henry Holt

A detailed but accessible introduction to forest ecology, with an Oregon treescape as case study. Luoma (A Crowded Ark: The Role of Zoos in Wildlife Conservation, 1987, etc.) is a born explainer and popularizer of scientific concepts. Using the Andrews Forest of central Oregon as his setting, he distills the great mass of research that has been done there—more than 1,200 published research reports, articles, and books to date and literally hundreds of others now in the works—to reveal just how old-growth woodlands work. Along the way, he gives his readers a short course in such complex issues as forest succession and the virtues of biodiversity, whereby trees and plants of differing ages and species host a variety of forms of life, from microrrhizal fungi to megafauna (—of a single gram of forest soil . . . about a thimbleful, may contain a hundred million bacteria, and several miles of fungal hyphae—). He instructs readers in the politics of forestry as well, a touchy subject if you happen to live in big timber country; he writes that foresters have long used the model of trees as crops that can be planted and harvested regularly, accepting a virtual commandment of conventional forestry since its birth early in this century in central Europe that younger is better than older, and consistency is better than diversity. The Andrews Forest, he demonstrates, is a model for a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, and the scientific knowledge that has come from studying it has in fact been put to use in modifying the federal government’s management of public woodlands—formerly the scene of wanton devastation and now the scene, in many key areas, of a restored wildness. A fine contribution to the environmental literature.