The Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot is a 25.6-hectare (63.3 acre) permanent sample plot in the mixed-conifer forest of Yosemite National Park, California. Featuring large, old sugar pine and an assortment of other trees, including white fir, incense-cedar, and California black oak, it is an ideal place to study changes in the forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Since 2009, Mark Swanson, SoE associate professor, has been joining project founder Jim Lutz (Utah State University) and Andrew J. Larson (University of Montana) annually to remeasure the plot, monitoring tree growth and mortality, changes in down woody debris and snags, overall fuel loading, understory vegetation, and more. The three scientists have been assisted in this work by many undergraduate and graduate students, for whom the YFDP has served as a tremendous opportunity to learn forest ecology through the work of monitoring.
“The YFDP is divided into 640 quadrats, each 20 m by 20 m. As teams of students, led by senior graduate students or a plot co-PI, remeasure each quadrat, measuring tree growth or noting a tree mortality and its causes, they come to a deeper understanding of forest dynamics through repetition. Furthermore, each day presents many opportunities to learn about all aspects of forest ecology, from how the soils govern the spatial distribution of tree species to how different bird species use different structures in the forest,” says Swanson. “It is an incomparable learning opportunity, while conducting rigorous science.”
The plot burned during the 2013 Rim Fire, giving the team an unprecedented look into fire effects on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. There are also opportunities to visit iconic locations like Yosemite Valley and various groves of giant sequoia, where discussions are held on topics including geology, human history, wildlife ecology, disturbance ecology, and restoration ecology. The trip, held every May after the end of the spring semester, is available to WSU students through SOE 420 “Long-term Research in Forest Ecosystems: Old-growth Forests of Yosemite National Park.”
A gallery of past trip participants can be found at the YFDP website under the “People” tab.