Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 23, 1999

U of G research makes cover of prestigious science magazine

The cover story of the September-October issue of American Scientist magazine features University of Guelph researchers who have changed the way scientists look at cliffs like those along the Niagara Escarpment.

Written by Prof. Douglas Larson, Department of Botany, and research associates Uta Matthes and Peter E. Kelly from the University's Cliff Ecology Research Group, the article details how the group discovered an ancient forest of small trees clinging to the rocky Niagara Escarpment. The issue is on newsstands this week and is also available on the World Wide Web.

The article, which includes a cover photograph, numerous charts, graphs and inside photographs, explains how cliffs serve as natural refuges for rare plants and trees. Originally, Larson and the researchers were trying to establish whether people hiking trails along the Niagara Escarpment were harming vegetation. To assess the damage, they sampled nearby trees to compare their growth before and after the trails had been established.

In counting growth rings, they discovered some of the trees were several hundred years old. They later determined the Niagara Escarpment had been sheltering a slow-growth forest, the most ancient forest east of the Rocky Mountains. Larson says the cliffs have escaped human disturbances, making the trees some of the least disturbed forests on earth.

The article also details how the researchers tried force-feeding the trees by providing water and nutrients through recycled intravenous tubes. They later concluded the cliff-dwelling trees were not stunted for lack of water or nutrients, but simply grow very slowly, with many looking more like twigs than trees.

The researchers have since expanded their research to include trees on cliffs in the eastern United States, Germany, France, England and Wales with help from researchers in the U.S. and Europe. "Now, when we look at cliffs, we no longer view them as inhospitable places populated with scraggly vegetation," Larson writes. "Rather, we see the last remnants of a landscape untouched by humans, refuges for displaced organisms in a disrupted natural landscape, habitats of overwhelming importance to the maintenance of biodiversity that are worth our every effort to protect."

Contact: Prof. Doug Larson, Department of Botany (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2679/6008

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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