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One year after a wildfire, burnt redwoods regrow foliage. Photo by Benjamin S. Ramage

Redwoods Regrow After Fires

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In the past 70 to 80 years, most fires in California’s coast redwood forests were prevented or suppressed. But in 2008, more than 2,000 fires ignited forests in Northern and Central California during a single summertime lightning storm. Overwhelmed by conflagrations in drier areas, firefighters allowed many of fires in coast redwood forests to burn. Learn more about this research.

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Silver-haired bats mate in redwood forests. Photo by Theodore J. Weller

Redwood Forests May Be Crucial for Silver-Haired Bats

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A US Forest Service ecologist, Weller decided to check out his own backyard: the redwood forests of Northwest California. He not only found bat activity in winter, but also important clues about the bats’ migrations. When Weller had surveyed a common species called the silver-haired bat in summer, he’d found almost all males. In the winter, however, he began to catch females right away. So he asked Save the Redwoods League to fund research to figure out what was going on. Learn more about this research.

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Sudden oak death killed a tanoak stand creating an opening in this forest. Tanoak plays an important ecological role in the redwood forest. Photo by Benjamin Ramage

Tanoak Decline in Redwood Forests

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Tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) grows in coastal forests in Oregon and California. Compared with the majestic redwood, it’s scruffy and small. But this humble hardwood plays an important ecological role in the redwood forest ecosystem. Its medium-height trees add a second canopy to the complex architecture of an old-growth redwood forest, creating more niches for diverse species. And its nutritious acorns feed bear, deer, rodents and birds. Learn more about this research.

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Large spotted A. flavipunctatus are found in southern inland Mendocino and Lake counties. Photo by M. Mulks

Black Salamanders Show Biodiversity of Redwood Forest

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The range of the black salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus) almost perfectly overlaps with the historic range of redwoods along the Central and Northern California coast. While most animals live on the Earth’s surface, this well-hidden amphibian travels mostly up and down in the rocks and soil. Its vertical approach to life comes in handy when the weather is hot or dry: the salamander moves deeper into the Earth until conditions are more to its liking. Learn more about this research.

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In Mill Creek forest, tree removal experiments explored how to bring old-forest features (such as giant redwoods and diverse plants and animals) to young forests like this one as quickly as possible. Photo by Kevin L. O'Hara

Forest Restoration through Thinning

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For more than half a century, the Mill Creek region in Northern California produced lumber. After clear-cutting, too many seeds were planted, producing a forest in which too many young trees competed for light, water and other resources. Now, thanks to Save the Redwoods League, Mill Creek is protected as part of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and is becoming a laboratory for redwood forest restoration. Learn more about this research.

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Researchers sampled coast redwoods' DNA at the Russell Research Station in Contra Costa County, California. Photo by Richard S. Dodd

Central California Redwoods More Vulnerable

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Researchers found in a 2007 study that coast redwoods’ genetic diversity was “very high” throughout the state, and more divergent in Central California. These Central California redwoods are most threatened by climate change and “should be a conservation priority,” said Richard S. Dodd, a professor of plant population genetics at the University of California, Berkeley. Learn more about this research.

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Emily Limm found that western sword fern absorbed the most moisture from fog. Photo by Emily Burns

Fog and Redwood Forest Plants

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Coast redwood forests depend on fog to survive the nearly rainless summers of California’s Mediterranean climate. It was once thought that redwoods captured this moisture through their roots. But a 2004 Save the Redwoods League-funded study proved that redwoods suck up water through their leaves as well. As a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, Emily Burns set out to discover whether other plants in the redwood ecosystem were equally adept at “foliar uptake.” Learn more about this research.

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Photo by Sean Dreilinger, Flickr Creative Commons

Examining Coast Redwood Genes

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Genome science has made stunning advances in the past few decades. But until recently, no one had tried to sequence Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwood. Part of the problem was the species’ complexity. Humans are “diploid,” meaning that for each chromosome, they have one copy inherited from their mother and one from their father. Redwoods, on the other hand, are “hexaploid,” meaning that they have three copies from each side, which triples the size of their genome. Learn more about this research.

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Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.

Coast Redwoods’ Response to Disturbance Events

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In 2006, Save the Redwoods League recruited eight scientists to survey scientific literature about how coast redwood forests respond to “disturbance events” such as fires, windstorms and floods. The scientists considered how redwoods fit into two broad categories of trees: those that need major disturbances to perpetuate themselves and those that don’t. The seedlings of disturbance-dependent trees germinate in open spaces, grow quickly to outcompete other vegetation and tend to form even-age stands. Species that don’t need disturbances tend to be shade tolerant, slower growing and longer lived.  They usually grow in uneven-age stands. Learn more about this research.

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In this logged forest, alders compete for dominance with Douglas-fir and redwoods. Redwoods here were stunted compared with their relatives in a untouched "old-growth" forest. Photo by Emily King Teraoka

Thinning Would Spur Old-Growth Qualities

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Upland forests in Redwood National Park have been studied extensively. But until a few years ago, less was known about streamside, or “riparian,” forests, which benefit the park’s salmon habitat by providing shade, erosion control and woody debris in the streams. So Humboldt State University graduate student Emily King Teraoka decided to compare two of the park’s riparian forests: one along Lost Man Creek, which had been clearcut between 1954 and 1962; and one along Little Lost Man Creek, which was mostly untouched. Learn more about this research.

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Photo courtesy Save the Redwoods League

Amphibian Populations Predict Forest Health

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In a forest of towering redwoods, the small creatures scurrying underfoot and splashing into streambeds sometimes go unnoticed as visitors crane their necks toward distant treetops. We should look down, though, say researchers from the Redwood Sciences Laboratory, who visited several state parks to study the ecosystems that surround and support those mighty trees. Researchers Garth Hodgson and Hartwell Welsh pay particular attention to tiny amphibians such as frogs, salamanders, newts in redwood forests, because published studies suggest they are indicators of forest health. Learn more about this research.

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Growing New Giants Through Canopy Gaps

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It seems unfathomable that the tiny seedlings Rob York sowed among ash piles in a clearing at Whitaker’s Forest could someday grow to be among the largest creatures on earth. Yet these green specks grew into giant sequoias two years after seeds were strewn in canopy gaps. This species of titan tree has stagnated in regeneration efforts for nearly a century. York, along with his graduate advisor, John Battles, is working on unlocking the secrets to growing new giants. Learn more about this research.

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Fire is an example of a disturbance event that redwoods face.

Fires Were Common in Rainy Northern Forests

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For years, Steve Norman had been told that the humid forests of coastal Northern California must be too wet to burn. Scientists who research fire acknowledge its power as a tool for reshaping the landscape, but some areas were considered nearly immune to fire. This assumption meant that the damp forests of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park remained a blank file in the coastal forest fire records. Learn more about this research.

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