Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Want Clean Water? Keep Existing Forests Healthy

Want Clean Water? Keep Existing Forests Healthy

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Twice a week in woodlands across central Iowa, Jan Thompson’s research team catalogs plant species, collects water samples and identifies aquatic insects.

The tasks seem unrelated at first, but Thompson intends to change that perception. A professor in natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State University, Thompson received a competitive grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in 2009 to study how forests protect the health of waterways.

The project is featured in a new video below:

Iowa has approximately 3 million acres of forested lands, much of which is located along small headwater streams. Plants in the woodland understory protect water quality by storing nutrients and holding soil in place. Thompson’s team collects data from nine locations in central Iowa—three intact natural systems, three where cattle have grazed and three urban sites—to understand how understory plants can reduce water pollution.

“We’re really interested in the functioning of natural systems in the Iowa landscape, and having them do the most they can do for us,” Thompson said.

Michaleen Gerken, a Ph.D. candidate in Iowa State University (ISU) Natural Resources Ecology and Management, handles the plant species inventory, recording the number and name of each plant species she finds in 20x20-meter plots. Graduate student Alister Olson and undergraduate Joe Bolton take samples from the stream to test for sediment and nitrate, and use instruments on-site to measure temperature, flow, dissolved oxygen and other aspects of water quality.

Olson also catalogs aquatic insects, which he said “can give a lot of insight to landowners into what’s impacting the stream condition.” Some species, like mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies, cannot tolerate pollution, and only appear in large numbers where the water quality is high.

The researchers hope to use this data to provide information to landowners about how they can protect or restore small patches of forest with the benefits to streams and rivers in mind. In a previous Leopold Center project, Thompson discovered that restoring key spring-growing species to a forest has the potential to greatly improve nutrient capture.

“We believe there is a close connection between what happens on the forest floor and what happens in the water,” Gerken said. “We can protect areas we already have as opposed to starting over.”

Support for the project comes from the Leopold Center, ISU Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis Program.

Other investigators include Tim Stewart and Cathy Mabry, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management, and Randy Kolka, U.S. Forest Service.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER page for more related news on this topic.

 

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' "Doomsday Clock" — an estimate of how close humanity is to the apocalypse — remains at 100 seconds to zero for 2021. Eva Hambach / AFP / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

One hundred seconds to midnight. That's how close humanity is to the apocalypse, and it's as close as the world has ever been, according to Wednesday's annual announcement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group that has been running its "Doomsday Clock" since the early years of the nuclear age in 1947.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 13th North Atlantic right whale calf with their mother off Wassaw Island, Georgia on Jan. 19, 2010. @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556

North Atlantic right whales are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of the extremely endangered species have been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients. Marko Geber / Getty Images

By Yoram Vodovotz and Michael Parkinson

The majority of Americans are stressed, sleep-deprived and overweight and suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being overweight or obese contributes to the 50% of adults who suffer high blood pressure, 10% with diabetes and additional 35% with pre-diabetes. And the costs are unaffordable and growing. About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. But there are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients.

Read More Show Less
Candles spell out, "Fight for 1 point 5" in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on Dec. 11, 2020, in reference to 1.5°C of Earth's warming. The event was organized by the Fridays for Future climate movement. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Taking an unconventional approach to conduct the largest-ever poll on climate change, the United Nations' Development Program and the University of Oxford surveyed 1.2 million people across 50 countries from October to December of 2020 through ads distributed in mobile gaming apps.

Read More Show Less
A monarch butterfly is perched next to an adult caterpillar on a milkweed plant, the only plant the monarch will lay eggs on and the caterpillar will eat. Cathy Keifer / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

Fall used to be the time when millions of monarch butterflies in North America would journey upwards of 2,000 miles to warmer winter habitat.

Read More Show Less