Hemlock Legacy Project (HeLP): A paleoecological requiem for eastern hemlock

Hessl, Amy; Pederson, Neil

Eastern North American forests have effectively lost two major tree species (American chestnut and American elm) in the last 100 years and two more, eastern and Carolina hemlock, will be functionally extinct over much of their ranges within a couple of decades. The loss of eastern hemlock is of particular concern because hemlock is: (1) a foundation species; (2) one of the longest-lived tree species over much of temperate eastern North America; and (3) sensitive to climatic variation and ecosystem disturbance, making it an ideal species for the reconstruction of environmental history. Unlike American chestnut, we have a small window of opportunity to salvage environmental histories from hemlock before they are lost. In this progress report, we review the extensive body of science derived from this paleoenvironmental archive and urge scientists from eastern North America to sample and archive old-growth hemlock while living and dead material remain. Here we describe a community-based approach to salvaging paleoenvironmental archives that could serve as a model for collections from other foundation species currently threatened by exotic forests pests and pathogens (e.g. whitebark pine, ash). The approach supports Schlesinger’s (2010) call for ‘translational ecology’ by building connections between scientists, students, environmental NGOs, and land managers focused on old-growth forests.


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Also Published In

Progress in Physical Geography

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
February 26, 2013