What conditions are favorable for seedling survival and growth?
The Metz Lab studies community ecology, which is a discipline that aims to understand what drives the forest composition that we observe. Some questions that the Metz Lab, and community ecologists more broadly, are interested in are why do we see forests dominated by a few species (Douglas fir and Western Hemlock in the Pacific Northwest) and what sets of conditions restrict other species from being more prevalent in these forests? These questions are important for a variety of reasons, namely that forests offer many valuable ecosystem services such as producing oxygen and sequestering large amounts of carbon. Despite our vested interest as a society in protecting these forests because of these services, we know little about how old-growth forests regenerate and change over time, as they have largely been studied in the context of timber. Understanding how the forest composition is going to shift as the climate continues to change is an integral part of predicting how global change will impact these forests and in turn the spaces we inhabit. The Metz Lab studies seedlings because these young trees are the template for the forest’s future. By peeking into the earliest and most vulnerable stages of a tree’s life, we can begin to understand what light, temperature, and competitive conditions, among many others, are or are not favorable for various species. Understanding what environmental conditions influence seed germination, growth, and survival will hopefully give us a sense of what these forests might look like in 100 or 500 years.