Today I'll be on Reddit talking about the National Geographic sponsored expedition to rediscover the William S. Cooper plots, our success, and how it's now the longest running, time-zero permanent succession plot in the world.
The trip involved navigating by 1916 charts, looking for X's painted on rocks above buried metal markers, metal detectors, old compass bearings and paces, and kayaking in the back of Glacier Bay.
Above - old maps showing the "emergence" of Glacier Bay, from the 1700's via a Russian map to the 1940's. This rapid emergence of a whole landscape is unique, and the reason why it's such a special place to study ecological communities.
The whole project was a success, and was followed up by a more recent trip where we expanded our data collection efforts to include bacterial and fungal functional diversity, spatial mapping of individual trees, dendrochronology, and broad-scale assessment of tree patterns via stem mapping and remote sensing. It's a big project, but amazing as well.
Overall the plots are providing a wealth of information on how plant communities assemble, change, and adapt to rapidly changing climates - Glacier Bay has been undergoing substantial warming for over a century thanks to the Little Ice Age, so it's a great laboratory for how landscapes will change worldwide with anticipated (and observed) warming.
Lots of soil data as well. The first results are below, but work is ongoing on the broader scale patterns (samples collected, in process for publication).
Not a lot of patterns, other than carbon tends to accumulate over time - interestingly, this is independent of the actual species composition. Two of these plots are dominated by nitrogen fixing species, but the remainder aren't - and some never have been. This undermines assumptions by some that nitrogen limits early colonization of "late" successional species. They do just fine, assuming limited competition.
And as always, none of this was or is possible without the whole team of collaborators: Sarah Bisbing (University of Nevada Reno), John Krapek, Glenn Wright, Greg Wiles, and Allison Bidlack, as well as the help of Glacier Bay National Park, the University of Minnesota archives team, and funding from National Geographic and the University of Alaska.