Today we are are in beautiful Olympic National Park, on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains approximately thirty miles from
the Pacific Ocean. We are in a temperate rainforest ecosystem, a place that receives over twelve feet of rain per year. Olympic National Park offers an amazing natural laboratory by which we can study biological diversity. We are at 71.5 meters in this Douglas fir
tree, here near the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh River valley. This tree is 401 years old, has over 47 metric tons of dry mass, over 108 million leaves (give or take six million), has a diameter at the base close to eight feet. In terms of physical appendages, this is one
of the most complex Doug firs we’ve ever climbed and measured. So, it likely provides a lot of ‘niche habitat’ – that’s just a fancy way of saying, a lot of different places for different critters to live. These moss pads harbor all kinds of insects, and as I pan out further, I have some lobaria lichens that fix nitrogen. And then the branch
gets really complicated. It comes up, it looks like it broke a long time ago, it has another
crotch with more mosses. So when a tree’s young, it’s analogous to
this branch maybe. You have a single trunk that goes up, and these really simple branches.
I’m really curious about the time-frames it takes to create a big structure like this
that has a lot of epiphyte mats, or plants growing on plants. And these in turn provide habitat for all kinds of insects, we find mammals up here, flying squirrels and even deer mice. Lots of animals are using these areas, so I’m really curious about how this structure develops. My focus is moreso on the plant, soil, and
fungal interrelationships that these trees have. So right now, I am about to sample a cross-section of canopy soil, which is going to include the mosses and epiphytic plants and lichens that are established here. And it’s pretty common to find a bunch of unknown species that have never been identified before, because these really tall trees with all these canopy soils have a lot of niches for different things to live. And it makes sense that over the evolution and added adaptive traits that these trees go through over time, that there start to form
different kinds of relationships up here than they do on the forest floor, because it’s a really different environment. So, I’m going to be looking for microarthropods
inside this epiphyte mat here, which looks to be mostly made up of antitrichia, looks
like we’ve got some lobaria around as well. And I want to take the dominant moss up here.
I’ve seen a couple other things, but I don’t want to take the rare stuff. So I’m just going
to grab a little bit of it, put it in a plastic bag, and I will take it back to the lab, and
put it in something called a Berlese funnel. Basically microarthropods don’t like heat
or light. They’re very sensitive to desiccation. So they’ll crawl down, away from the light,
into a funnel, and then they’ll fall into a container that I can then float them out
of, and look at them under a microscope. We’ll see, at this height, if there’s any difference
between the species that we find here, or the diversity up here, versus down lower in the tree. Just reach down, grab a little bit of this moss. It’s pretty dry, but I’m betting there’ll be somebody in there. It’s just an incredible opportunity. These
parks have provided us with a lot of places to study over the years. To have a park here
that has this land set aside with relatively untouched stuff, we can really get good reference
points and, like James said, a natural laboratory in which to experiment and test our theories, and our ideas, and develop new ideas and have epiphanies. We’re always learning new things out here, and it’s really exciting.