October 28, 2013

A Tree Grows in Springfield

Students research trees planted after tornado damage

In the aftermath of a tornado that ripped through Springfield, Mass., on June 1, 2011, one third of the trees in the areas hardest hit had to be removed. Now, a team of UMass researchers and students is aiding the “ReGreen Springfield” plan to replant 3,830 trees, studying each newly planted tree to determine how well it is growing and which ones survive best in urban conditions.

“To gain the most benefits out of a reforestation, it is critical to know how quickly the tree establishes itself and whether it will survive,” says Brian Kane ’97G, ’02PhD, arboriculture professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation. After the study is completed in a few years it will provide evidence of which species best thrive. “The study has immediate value for practitioners. They’ll know what’s going to work in a given set of growing conditions and the study will help other communities that suffer damage from extreme weather events,” says Kane. The research will form the foundation for future urban forests and avoid wasting thousands of dollars in replanting trees with high mortality rates. The trees planted in Springfield—from sugar maples to Japanese Zelkovas—are still too young for conclusions to be drawn about their health and sustainability.

Kane monitors a team of six undergraduates and a graduate assistant. They make weekly trips to Springfield to measure the trees, from the position of the first branch to the width of the tree canopy, and to take soil samples, which are tested in a lab on campus. “These measurements create a better picture of what species will do best where, so that in the future forest managers don’t plant trees in places where they’ll die,” explains graduate assistant Daniel Strom.

Jamal Choudhary ’17 is participating in the research project as part of the First-Year Research Experience in the College of Natural Sciences. “I’m helping with data collection and analysis in the lab, so I am really happy to get this experience as a first-year student,” he says. Nicolette Eicholtz ’15, an urban forestry major who wants to teach high school when she graduates, says, “Having real world experience will help me when I teach.”