July 1, 2011
- MSU AgBioResearch field days showcase the latest in agricultural research and natural resource management
- MSU launches new reproductive research initiative
- MSU nets $5 million grant to increase dairy production efficiency
- Next generation MSU biofuel technology wins U.S. scale-up support
- Dairy, beef producers can better manage Johne's disease by focusing on calves
- MSU AgBioResearch scientist names one of the nation's most innovative researchers
- Stopping the worm: MSU researchers take new approach to trapping costly apple pest
- Two AgBioResearch scientists honored as MSU university distinguished professors
- Ethanol industry recognizes MSU AgBioResearch scientist
- Managing forests requires a birds-eye view
MSU AgBioResearch field days showcase the latest in agricultural research and natural resource management
Leading-edge research and demonstration projects ranging from advances in fruit, vegetable and grain production, and weed, insect and disease control to cattle-breeding techniques and high-yield forage testing will be featured throughout the summer at a number of Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch center field days and open houses.
“Field days are excellent opportunities to provide exposure to the novel research taking place at the research centers,” said AgBioResearch director Steve Pueppke. “These facilities supply Michigan growers and commodity groups with the latest information, enabling them to provide Michigan residents with more efficient production strategies, improved foods and plants, and a better quality of life.”
AgBioResearch has on-campus facilities and 14 outlying research centers located across Michigan that support the work of more than 300 scientists in six colleges at Michigan State University: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science and Veterinary Medicine.
The AgBioResearch field day schedule for this summer is:
- July 23 – Upper Peninsula Research Center Field Day. This center is the hub of beef cattle research for northern Michigan.
- July 27 – Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center 22nd Annual MSU Viticulture Day. The center supports research in fruit and vegetable breeding and variety operations, and research on cherry rootstocks and peach production.
- August 11 – Montcalm Research Center Potato and Dry Bean Field Day. Researchers at this center study bean and potato varieties, fertility, and weed, insect and disease control.
- August 25 – Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center Demonstration Day. Scientists at this facility study pest management, value-added processing and marketing for wine grapes, apples, plums, sweet and tart cherries, and hops.
- September 20 – Trevor Nichols Research Center Field Day. Research at this center focuses on finding the best ways to keep fruit pest-free in Michigan while preserving the environment and ensuring economic viability for the state’s fruit growers.
MSU launches new reproductive research initiative
Cows soon may be sharing their fertility secrets to help human mothers conceive healthy babies, thanks to a new initiative that combines Michigan State University research expertise in animal agriculture and human medicine.
The MSU Reproductive and Developmental Sciences Initiative will leverage ongoing collaborations among George Smith, MSU AgBioResearch animal scientist, and faculty members in animal science, human medicine, genetics and regenerative medicine who work in labs across MSU's East Lansing and Grand Rapids campuses. By formalizing its unique cross-disciplinary focus on human/animal reproduction and development, the university expects to attract top researchers and funding.
"What makes this a particularly powerful initiative is that it is faculty-driven," said J. Ian Gray, MSU vice president for research and graduate studies. “Over the next few years, the university will be investing in eight new positions across the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Human Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and AgBioResearch to support this area of research. "We recognize that this cluster of scientific expertise could have a significant impact, not only in advancing human reproduction and development but also on animal production, which would have significant economic impact on the animal agriculture industry."
Using animal models and human clinical trials, researchers will explore all aspects of the reproductive puzzle in mammals, from genetic and environmental influences to stem cell, pharmaceutical and bioengineering solutions. The four main points of the initiative are:
- Stem cell biology/regenerative medicine, focused on reprogramming adult somatic cells to produce induced pluripotent stem cells, which share characteristics of cells in an early embryo.
- Developmental epigenetics, to better understand how environmental changes during the prenatal period and the time around and before conception lead to adult-onset diseases.
- Women's health, to further expand programs focused on understanding the biology of both benign and malignant gynecological diseases and identifying potential biomarkers for diagnosis.
- Impact of environment on reproductive function, including reproductive toxicology and tissue malignancy. The focus will be on the impact of environmental toxins on the overall reproductive health of women and livestock.
- Smith, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Asgi Fazleabas, professor and associate chairperson for research in the College of Human Medicine are the project coordinators.
Smith's research is focused on understanding fundamental mechanisms that regulate ovarian function and early embryonic development and uses dairy cattle as a biological model for reproduction in agricultural species and humans. He said the group will focus research efforts on the most pressing problems affecting fertility in humans and livestock species.
"This initiative provides a framework to recruit to MSU the very best researchers in the field to fill critical gaps necessary to address key problems related to reproduction and developmental biology, and to attract significant additional support from the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies," Smith said.
Fazleabas, who recently was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, leads the $6.8 million Center for Women's Health and Reproduction Research. MSU, Spectrum Health Hospital Group and the Van Andel Institute collaborate on various projects through the center, located in Grand Rapids.
"The history of investment in reproductive and developmental sciences research at MSU has helped foster the current success of individual research programs," Fazleabas said. "This new initiative promises to dramatically improve our potential for future funding and ultimately should propel the research breakthroughs we seek."
MSU nets $5 million grant to increase dairy production efficiency
As human populations increase and available arable land decreases, agricultural systems are under pressure to produce more food more efficiently.
MSU AgBioResearch scientist Mike VandeHaar believes that breeding dairy cows that produce milk with less feed can help meet this goal.
“We already know how to get cows to produce more than 100 pounds of milk a day – we have the science to be able to do that,” said VandeHaar, professor in the MSU Department of Animal Science. “Our question now is whether some cows are genetically predisposed to produce that milk with less feed. If we find that feed efficiency is inherent in a cow’s DNA, it will improve our ability to sustainably produce the milk and dairy products that our growing population consumes.”
VandeHaar is project director of a team of MSU researchers that will use a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to increase the efficiency and sustainability of milk production by:
- Educating future leaders, voters and consumers about key practices in dairy husbandry that promote feed efficiency and sustainability.
- Developing a feed efficiency database on 8,000 genomically characterized Holstein cows.
- Determining the genetic architecture of feed efficiency and building a foundation for genomic selection of more efficient animals.
- Developing and implementing genomic breeding tools to produce cows with enhanced feed efficiency.
- Developing and implementing practical support tools to improve whole-herd feed efficiency.
“We are excited about this USDA grant program,” VandeHaar said. “Improving stewardship of resources in the dairy industry has been a lifelong passion of mine. If we’re going to eat animal products and feed more people, we have to do it more efficiently.”
Increasing efficiency of milk production can help improve stewardship of the planet, VandeHaar said.
“Projects like this are critically important to our planet,” he said. “If we can’t figure out efficient ways to feed 9 billion people in the next 40 years, we will have hungry people, political unrest and no place left for native ecosystems because we’ll be using those lands to grow food.”
Additional MSU team members are AgBioResearch animal scientists Dave Beede, Richard Pursley, Rob Tempelman and Miriam Weber Nielsen. Also contributing to the project are researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, Wageningen UR in The Netherlands, the University of Florida, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
The grant was awarded through the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and is administered through NIFA.
Next generation MSU biofuel technology wins U.S. scale-up support
A $4.3 million competitive federal grant will help scale up advanced biofuel technology developed by Michigan State University AgBioResearch scientist Bruce Dale.
Dale, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU, established a method to turn agricultural waste and nonfood plants into material that is more easily processed into biofuels and chemicals. The Michigan Biotechnology Institute (MBI) will use U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding to step up Dale’s process from lab bench scale to a 100-fold larger working prototype.
“Our process uses concentrated ammonia to open up the cell walls of grasses, straws, woody materials, etc., so that the sugars in the cell walls can be more easily converted into fuels, chemicals and cattle feed. The new grant will allow us to test this process at a much larger scale and to determine its engineering and economic performance as wel continue to scale it up for commercial applications,” Dale said.
“This grant is focused on understanding how we deploy these technologies in the real world,” said Doug Gage, director of the MSU BioEconomy Network. “That’s often the place where many promising ideas fail commercially. It’s looking at the whole sequence from biomass to an end product.”
If it proves viable at commercial scale, the process, dubbed AFEX, could add a broad range of affordable, sustainable and local fuel sources to America’s energy assets. It promises new economic opportunities for rural communities and solutions to concerns over cost and food-versus-fuel tradeoffs, which today are prompting policymakers to back away from first-generation, corn-based biofuels such as ethanol.
“It is because of these high-level benefits that Michigan leaders such as Sen. Carl Levin have worked with MSU to bring visibility to such transformational technologies,” said Bobby Bringi, MBI’s president and CEO.
AFEX uses ammonia and water under moderate pressure and heat to break plant material down into an intermediate form. Sugars can then be easily extracted and converted into fuels and chemicals. Nearly all the ammonia is recycled, and the rest goes into the intermediate product, which could alternatively be turned into cattle feed.
Owned by the MSU Foundation, MBI is MSU’s bio-based technology “de-risking” enterprise. Located in the University Corporate Research Park in Lansing south of the MSU campus, MBI works with MSU researchers and with external organizations to develop their technologies. With MSU researchers, for example, MBI helped Cargill Inc. develop the biodegradable polymer used in SunChips compostable bags. Its 120,000-square-foot facility includes MBI’s pilot production plant and faculty and contract research laboratories.
“The ability to combine world-class research with the capability to bridge the gap between research and practical applications is critical for success,” Bringi said. “This award will help us accelerate this important technology toward the market.”
The DOE grant leverages work done by Dale and other researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, of which MSU and MBI are partners. The GLBRC brings scientists together to create innovative approaches to improving plants, processing, catalysts and sustainable practices in bioenergy. Dale last year was named among the most influential people in bioenergy by Biofuels Digest.
Dairy, beef producers can better manage Johne's disease by focusing on calves
“Focus on the calf” is the simple and straightforward take-home message for all dairy and beef producers for controlling Johne’s disease in their herds. This was the conclusion of Michigan State University (MSU) researchers and Extension specialists after conducting field research and evaluating Johne’s disease control strategies for close to a decade in Michigan herds as part of the Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project. The objective of the work was to identify which management practices are the most effective at controlling the spread of Johne’s disease.
MSU AgBioResearch scientist Dan Grooms, professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and lead researcher on the project, summarized the findings in four words: focus on the calf.
“It sounds too simple, but if we can simply reduce the risk of calves becoming exposed to the bacterium that causes Johne’s disease, then we can make significant progress in reducing the impact of the disease on both dairy and beef operations,” he said.
Johne’s disease is a contagious and untreatable disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, or MAP, that affects primarily the small intestine of ruminants. Johne's disease symptoms include weight loss and diarrhea with a normal appetite. Though infection typically occurs in calves, animals generally don’t express clinical signs of the disease until later in life.
Grooms explained that the goals of the project were to evaluate the effectiveness of Johne’s disease control strategies, develop new knowledge about control strategies through field research studies, develop education resources and promote the Michigan Voluntary Johne’s Disease Control Program. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administer the program.
Nine herds – one beef operation and eight dairy herds – were enrolled in the Michigan project. Selected farms represented a variety of management styles and were located across the state. Farms were enrolled in the project between 2002 and 2005 and participated in the program for four to seven years.
Each herd underwent whole-herd testing to measure baseline levels of Johne’s disease infection. From there, a disease risk assessment was conducted, and management practices were put in place to help control on-farm spread of the disease.
All of the herds participating in the project tested positive for Johne’s; the percentage of cows infected in each herd ranged from 6 percent to 14 percent.
“Each of the nine herds – like the majority of dairy and beef operations in the state – was infected with Johne’s [disease] at the time of enrollment,” Grooms said. “At the end of the project, the farms had reduced the prevalence of Johne’s disease in their herds and the number of cattle detected with clinical signs of the disease, and improved the overall herd health.”
What was the most compelling piece of evidence collected by researchers supporting the recommendation to focus on calf management practices to reduce the incidence of Johne’s disease?
“In every herd that participated in the project, significant changes were made to how the calves were managed, and the incidence of Johne’s was reduced significantly,” Grooms said. “By focusing resources and efforts on reducing MAP transmission from older animals to young calves, producers can effectively manage Johne’s disease and reduce its impact on farms.”
Grooms said that findings from this work will have a far-reaching and positive effect on the future of the beef and dairy industries.
“The program has provided background for educating producers on the positive correlation between implementing effective management decisions to control Johne’s disease in their operations and the profitability of their businesses and overall improved animal welfare,” he said.
The Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project was a partnership between the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, the MSU Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health, MSU Extension, MDARD and the USDA, in collaboration with nine Michigan veterinary clinics. Findings from the Michigan farms involved in the study were pooled with data collected from 17 other states as part of a multi-state project, the National Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project.
Results from field-based research studies associated with the project are available in hard copy in the publication “The Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project: Research Findings, Lessons Learned, and Producers’ Perspectives,” or as a downloadable document at http://cvm.msu.edu/johnes.
MSU AgBioResearch scientist named one of the nation's most innovative researchers
MSU AgBioResearch plant biologist Sheng Yang He has been named one of the nation’s most-innovative plant scientists as part of a $75 million new plant science research initiative.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation honored He, who is with the MSU Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, and 14 other researchers from around the country. The honor will see He’s salary, benefits and research expenses covered for the next five years or longer.
“The magnitude of being named an HHMI-GBMF investigator hasn’t sunk in yet,” said He, the first MSU professor to receive the award. “It is quite an honor to be selected from a pool of the nation’s best plant scientists, including some of my outstanding colleagues at MSU. It truly reflects the long-term commitment of MSU to make plant science research and education among the nation’s best.”
For nearly 20 years, He has been plotting an original course of research.
“Most of my colleagues were trying to understand how plants defend themselves against disease, the molecular basis of plant resistance,” He said. “But I thought the opposite – I wanted to know why plants are susceptible to disease.”
Much of He’s research has focused on the Type III secretion system, a formidable bacterial weapon. Plant scientists have known for years that bacteria secrete disease-promoting proteins, but conventional wisdom held that those proteins affected host cells from the outside. He discovered that some of these proteins act inside plant cells.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to inactivate the pathogen’s Type III secretion system?” He asked.
He was selected from nearly 240 applicants to receive the five-year funding, which begins in September. He is eligible for renewal for another five-year term.
Stopping the worm: MSU researchers take new approach to trapping costly apple pest
Sometimes the only way to make something better is to forget everything you already know about it and start again.
That strategy brought some surprising results – in a good way – for MSU AgBioResearch entomologist and Extension specialist Larry Gut in research to improve management techniques for codling moth (the infamous “worm in the apple”) for Michigan’s fruit growers.
“With the current strategies, growers haven’t been absolutely confident in knowing where codling moth populations are in their orchards,” said Gut, a professor in the MSU Department of Entomology, who specializes in tree fruit entomology. “The pheromone traps currently in use have become the standard for trapping codling moth, but growers weren’t always seeing a correlation between the number caught in the traps and what was actually happening in the orchard. They want to make sure they are putting the pheromone traps in the places where what’s being caught will actually represent the population of the pest in that area of the orchard.”
Gut and his lab group figured there had to be a better trap.
“I told my crew to ignore what they knew about these traps and find what works best,” he said. “They started over, using information we have learned about codling moth behavior. These traps needed to do more than attract -- they needed to help control codling moth.”
Gut has seen great value in behavior-based pest research during his career, and his lab crew has used it extensively in many projects. Pheromone traps now hang parallel to the trees with the lure at the bottom, but it wasn’t really known if this was the best way to attract codling moth.
Gut’s lab created and tested more than a dozen traps of varying sizes, shapes and orientations to see what made codling moth males prefer one over another. While working with trap designs in the laboratory flight tunnel (where the pests are plying about freely in a controlled area and closely monitored), Mike Reinke, a graduate student in Gut’s lab, stumbled upon the effectiveness of hanging the trap so that it’s perpendicular to a tree. This approach, coupled with a newer, smaller trap design, resulted in a trap that not only attracted the pest but captured nearly 100 percent of the male codling moths that made contact with it.
“The consistently higher catches in these new traps with all interior walls treated with stickum and small holes for entry of moths suggests that growers could benefit from adopting this system as the standard,” Gut said. “It has evolved from a trapping and monitoring tool to a control method.”
This trap is in its first year of use. The Michigan Apple Committee has been a funding partner in its development, along with Michigan’s plant agriculture initiative, Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs). Gut has done the preliminary work to patent the design, which is also being tested in Australia.
Gut’s research has also shown that, when growers are placing codling moth pheromone traps in suspect areas in the orchard, more are better. He said that growers want to make sure that they place numerous traps in areas where codling moths have been problematic in the past. Also, Gut has found that traps that use plant volatiles as an additional attractant lure more moths than those using pheromones alone.
Growers are seeing the effect of this research. In an interview with Fruit Growers News magazine, Steve Thome, current president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society and owner of Thome Orchards near Grand Rapids, talked about the success he’d had using codling moth trapping and disruption methods over the past seven years.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he noted. “We continue to monitor, and have one trap per every 5 acres. We run our own trap line, and there are some hot spots that we have to spray, such as abandoned trees or wild trees. But for the most part, we have season-long control. We might have sprayed 15 acres this past year [out of roughly 115 acres].”
Increased knowledge of codling moth behavior has also led to the discovery that temperature has a dramatic effect on codling moth flight, and growers can use this information to time their pesticide sprays efficiently and economically.
“The correlation between temperature and flight has helped us create an improved decision-making model for growers that can save them time and money,” Gut said. “Often in the springtime, we’ll get questions from growers who are seeing moths in their apple orchards but aren’t sure if they should be spraying for them because it’s still cold. The temperature models we have created can tell them when to concentrate on treatment.”
With proper monitoring systems and decision-making tools, apple growers in Michigan can eliminate unnecessary treatments, saving time, labor and money. It is estimated that a single pesticide treatment can cost $40 or more per acre, so a grower with a 100-acre orchard can save $4,000 by eliminating a single treatment. Doing this across the 43,000 acres of apples grown in the state would amount to a $1.94 million savings.
Other institutions have become partners in this research, and funding from the North Central Regional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program is being sought to continue the project. Gut plans on writing a bulletin that details procedures for monitoring codling moth and doing field evaluation of the proposed protocols in commercial orchards in Michigan.
Additional funding for this research came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative (USDA-NRI), Trécé Inc. and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Committee.
Two AgBioResearch scientists honored as MSU university distinguished professors
Two AgBioResearch scientists, Richard Merritt and James Pestka, have been named university distinguished professors in recognition of their achievements in the classroom, laboratory and community. The designations, recommended by Michigan State University (MSU) President Lou Anna K. Simon, were approved by the MSU Board of Trustees at its June meeting.
The recognition is among the highest honors that the university can bestow on a faculty member. Those selected for the title have been recognized nationally and internationally for the importance of their teaching, research and outreach achievements. Merritt and Pestka were among 10 faculty members receiving this honor.
Merritt is a professor in and past chairperson of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His research focuses on feeding ecology, animal/microbial interactions, population dynamics and the influence of environmental factors on aquatic insects, as well as the field of forensic entomology.
“This award is a great honor to receive, and I am humbled by the fact that so few professors receive this prestigious award in their entire careers at MSU,” said Merritt, who also received the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award in 2004 and the MSU CANR Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2006.
Pestka is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His research interests lie in the area of food toxicology and immunotoxicology, specifically the immunological effects of environmental chemicals and dietary constituents.
“This honor simply reflects the extraordinary collaborative spirit of on-campu colleagues and the unique supportive environment for toxicology research provided by MSU AgBioResearch, the Center for Integrative Toxicology and MSU as a whole,”said Pestka, who also received the MSU CANR Distinguished Faculty Award in 1996 and the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award in 1999.
Individuals holding the professorship will receive, in addition to their salaries, a stipend of $5,000 per year for five years to support professional activities.
Ethanol industry recognizes MSU AgBioResearch scientist
MSU AgBioResearch scientist Bruce Dale was honored in June at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop and Expo in Indianapolis, Ind., for his contributions to the industry. Dale has devoted his entire career to researching and advancing sustainable biofuels.
Dale, an MSU professor of chemical engineering and materials science, received the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Award of Excellence for his extensive research in the areas of, among other things, indirect land use change (ILUC) and the production of cellulosic ethanol -- biofuel produced from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants.
The RFA said that Dale provides “a much-needed dose of sanity and maturity” to discussions of ethanol’s role in the American transportation fuel sector and commended his efforts to advance the industry.
“His expertise and willingness to engage critics of biofuels when their arguments lack sound scientific standing has been invaluable in forcing fact-based conversations about American ethanol production,” the group stated. “Dr. Dale is well deserving of this award and the Renewable Fuels Association applauds him and thanks him for his ongoing contribution to this industry.”
Over the course of his career, Dale has authored almost 200 refereed journal papers and often finds himself on the witness stand at various policy hearings explaining and clarifying the environmental effects of ethanol production. Earlier this year, he co-authored an analysis of ILUC that found no correlation between U.S. biofuel production and land use change in other countries.
As a leader in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center activities at MSU, Dale devotes much of his research time to the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. He is the inventor of a cellulosic ethanol pre-treatment process known as AFEX, which recently received U.S. DOE funding to be scaled up out of the laboratory, where it has displayed very promising results for effective cellulosic ethanol production.
Dale said he is extremely honored to receive recognition from the ethanol industry for his research because he recognizes the hard work on the part of many industry members to provide a domestic source of renewable fuel.
“I’m trying to do the same in my own way,” he said. “To have the award coming from people who are actually there ‘walking the walk’ is very gratifying to me.”
"We are very pleased to see Bruce recognized for his outstanding research and leadership," said Steve Pueppke, AgBioResearch director. "He is a testament to the high caliber of researchers with whom we are privileged to work."
A proud grandparent, Dale believes the choices made now about the future of energy will influence his grandchildren’s generation and is optimistic that their generation will be pleased with the outcome.
“We’re going to use fossil fuels for a long time, but we can’t go on pretending that they’re going to last forever and that they don’t have the problems they obviously do have,” he said. “We’ve got to get engaged in this transition to sustainability. We just can’t keep living on the earth’s natural resources without putting anything back. I think my kids and grandkids are going to judge me on how well I did to help this transition, and how well all of us did.”
Managing forests requires a birds-eye view
Managers of northern Michigan forests may not see the birds for the trees — or at least are in danger of losing sight of songbird neighborhoods when looking out for timber harvests.
In a novel look at managing the future’s timber harvest while being mindful of the effect on key songbirds in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, MSU AgBioResearch scientists and other researchers use a new forest simulation model for the first time to look at what timber-friendly hardwood regeneration can mean to bird habitat. And it’s a long-range look, given that the time lag between forest management decisions and impact is generations.
“This work nicely illustrates that the influence of deer and forest management practices on forest regeneration have effects on more than just future wood production,” said Michael Walters, AgBioResearch scientist, associate professor of forestry. “It is a preview of things to come – it’s the first study based largely on our new integrated ecological-economic model, which allows us to examine the effects of various forest and wildlife management options on a broad range of ecosystem values. We believe that it will be a useful tool for managers trying to negotiate the complex task of managing forested ecosystems for multiple objectives.”
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to a thriving timber industry and is an important breeding ground for many songbird species of conservation concern. Birds are particular about their neighborhoods — they have specific preferences for how open the forest canopy is and how high and sturdy branches are. If a forest changes considerably as it is harvested and regrows, the changes will affect how successful birds are at nesting and reproducing.
“Forests are coupled human and natural systems (CHANS),” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, AgBioResearch scientist and holder of the Rachel Carson Chair in Ecological Sustainability. “Systems models like the one our team has developed are essential tools for stakeholders to understand the long-term dynamics and complexity of CHANS. Results from simulation experiments using our model lay a good foundation for achieving socioeconomic and ecological sustainability.”
The group engaged in a complicated birds-eye view of the forest, seeking to understand how four key songbirds — the black-throated green warbler, the eastern wood-pewee, the least flycatcher and the rose-breasted grosbeak — dealt with neighborhood upheaval.
Logging changes a forest’s composition, creating gaps in the canopy that can take years to fill. Currently the popular way of encouraging regeneration of hardwoods, called gap harvesting, isn’t always successful. Sometimes it appears that deer are eating the maple seedlings trying to grow in the sunny gaps left by harvest.
The four songbird species that the team picked all are fussy about their canopy. For example, the warbler likes its canopy dense with lots of branches about 50 feet high. The flycatcher, however, digs more open expanses.
“Essentially, for birds in these forests it’s the density of the regeneration of trees that become canopy dominants, such as sugar maple, that has the biggest effect on their future habitat,” said James Millington, a former post doctoral researcher at the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS), who is now a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at King's College in London, U.K. “These birds are picky about their overstory — and if regeneration is changing the forest now, in 100 years the canopy is going to be very different.”
In addition to Liu, Walters and Millington, study researchers are Megan Matonis, who recently received a master’s degree in forestry; Edward Laurent, a former CSIS doctoral student who is now science coordinator at the American Bird Conservancy; and Kimberly Hall, climate change scientist at The Nature Conservancy.
Funding for the study was provided by MSU AgBioResearch, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The study results are reported online in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.