July 25, 2006

Plant study may help in forest management

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale doctoral student is studying natural open areas in forests, hoping to unlock more efficient plant management practices.

Mike DeLong received a $1,997 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to study how plants live and interrelate in natural open areas in the forests. His work involves monitoring how scattered groupings of the same plant in such areas flourish, die out and affect each other. Plant biologists call such dispersed, interrelated growths "metapopulations."

DeLong is studying open areas in the forests around Giant City State Park and the Anna-Jonesboro area, said David Gibson, professor of plant biology in the College of Science at SIUC. The openings are much like the open prairie in terms of ecology, with a variety of plants cropping up where fallen trees or thin soil have made a clearing.

DeLong examines how these scattered plant pockets might "feed" each other with seed and pollen, allowing the species of plant to die out in one area but survive nearby, thus remaining a viable part of the ecosystem. He studies factors such as distances between plant groups and uses seed traps and seed bank studies to find out what kind of seeds are in the soil in various areas at any given time.

Gibson said understanding the relationship among the scattered groups of plants might allow forest managers to see the big ecology picture, allowing them to focus more on the most pressing management issues.

Offering nationally and internationally recognized doctoral, master's and certificate programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.