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The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem

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Veteran science writer Jon Luoma uncovers the inner workings of an ancient forest, from the microscopic bugs in the soil to the giant trees.


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Veteran science writer Jon Luoma uncovers the inner workings of an ancient forest, from the microscopic bugs in the soil to the giant trees.

30 review for The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen (itpdx)

    Luoma writes about what “long-term, large-scale, interdisciplinary ecological studies” can tell us about forests. He focuses on the teams that have worked at the Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. Fascinating information on how nutrients are extracted and cycle through the plants, fungi, bugs and animals of old growth forests. How forests respond to cataclysms such as clear cuts, volcanic eruptions and floods. I read the first edition (1999). It seems that there is a second edition (2006) but Luoma writes about what “long-term, large-scale, interdisciplinary ecological studies” can tell us about forests. He focuses on the teams that have worked at the Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. Fascinating information on how nutrients are extracted and cycle through the plants, fungi, bugs and animals of old growth forests. How forests respond to cataclysms such as clear cuts, volcanic eruptions and floods. I read the first edition (1999). It seems that there is a second edition (2006) but I expect that much more has been uncovered since then. Luoma includes the spotted owl and salmon wars from the stand point of what science could tell us. I am in search of a similar report of more recent vintage. I can also recommend The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston that tells more about the technics of exploring tree canopies but in the Redwoods.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sara Van Dyck

    This book attracted me because it deals with forests, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, but it is relevant to other areas. Although the book came out in 1999, I am giving it a 5 rating because the botanical information - based on a lot of down-to-earth research (literally)- is still valid, and the issues of old-growth forests, logging, the economy and the environment, are still being fought here. Luoma’s detailed explanations of the way trees and forests work and affect the grou This book attracted me because it deals with forests, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, but it is relevant to other areas. Although the book came out in 1999, I am giving it a 5 rating because the botanical information - based on a lot of down-to-earth research (literally)- is still valid, and the issues of old-growth forests, logging, the economy and the environment, are still being fought here. Luoma’s detailed explanations of the way trees and forests work and affect the ground around them, from huge stands of trees to leaves to roots, from downed logs to mycorrhyzae, from landslides to streams to native fish, should be requred reading for anyone deciding how to care for our forests and wondering why that spotted owl was so important. Many of the principles could well apply wherever we are trying to manage natural systems. One great lesson is that scientists and experienced foresters are not always able to foresee the consequences of their actions. We are caught in the “invisible present,” unable to see the slow changes around us. Proceed with caution

  3. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    Luoma illuminates the myriad relationships pulsing in old growth ecosystems. All life, From the massive pillars of ancient trees to microscopic bacteria engaged in a seemingly endless symbiosis. This delicate network is subject to intensive logging, once believed by most foresters to be beneficial, is now seen through the lens of growing ecological understanding. A new forestry has developed from this research and is working it's way into the mainstream. Is it possible to stop cutting trees down Luoma illuminates the myriad relationships pulsing in old growth ecosystems. All life, From the massive pillars of ancient trees to microscopic bacteria engaged in a seemingly endless symbiosis. This delicate network is subject to intensive logging, once believed by most foresters to be beneficial, is now seen through the lens of growing ecological understanding. A new forestry has developed from this research and is working it's way into the mainstream. Is it possible to stop cutting trees down all together? Mud houses for all!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wendelle

    This book tells the story of how old-growth forests were redeemed in the view of foresters as an ecologically significant ecosystem through the studious efforts and discoveries of many biologists. Before, people couldn't wait to cut down old-growth forests since they were perceived to be ecologically dead, and plantation-style young forests would be more productive to plant in their place. This book, however, can only be realistically recommended to people who are comfortable with their distinct This book tells the story of how old-growth forests were redeemed in the view of foresters as an ecologically significant ecosystem through the studious efforts and discoveries of many biologists. Before, people couldn't wait to cut down old-growth forests since they were perceived to be ecologically dead, and plantation-style young forests would be more productive to plant in their place. This book, however, can only be realistically recommended to people who are comfortable with their distinctions between their mycorrhizae and algae, as the book is bogged down with so much ecology terminology

  5. 5 out of 5

    Flori

    After enjoying "The Wild Trees" so much, I wanted to read this one about old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. It was just a little too scientific for me--interesting, but not enough to keep me going. I renewed it 3 times from the library and still hadn't finished it, so I returned it finally. I did learn a lot about ecosystems though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    This was for a biology class I'm currently taking called Plant Communities of the Pacific Northwest. This is really good science writing for anybody who is interested in old growth forests and the politics of forestry the Northwest. Definitely for non-science majors too, it's very easy to read and entertaining.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I read this in preparation for my upcoming research expedition in the Wind River Experimental Forest in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest in Washington in June 2018. Some amazing discoveries have been made in experimental forests, such as the Adams Forest in Oregon. The book describes discoveries related to the influence of insects, soils, hydrologic and anthropomorphic factors on the viability of forest ecosystems. We need to learn much more about these systems if we want to survive into the I read this in preparation for my upcoming research expedition in the Wind River Experimental Forest in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest in Washington in June 2018. Some amazing discoveries have been made in experimental forests, such as the Adams Forest in Oregon. The book describes discoveries related to the influence of insects, soils, hydrologic and anthropomorphic factors on the viability of forest ecosystems. We need to learn much more about these systems if we want to survive into the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    This was great science writing. The book traced discovery and the fantastically complex interrelationships within an old growth forest. I found the first chapter or two a little slow- but the rest of the book was captivating!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    Great book - I learned so many fascinating and important things about old growth forests and what really happens down in the dirt that makes it all work. I would love to see an updated edition, because surely there have been many more discoveries since this was written.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Fascinating and full of surprises. This one I will have to read again!

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In the desire to be scientific and orderly, forests have been managed to cut trees at the point at which wood producing biological processes slow down, and replanted with young and vigorous replacements, leading to a continual wood supply. In order to avoid any competition for nutrients, small and controlled fires are applied to clean things out, and the herbicides to prevent the regrowth of competitive understory. What could go wrong? Thanks to the frequently unpopular study of "inefficient" and In the desire to be scientific and orderly, forests have been managed to cut trees at the point at which wood producing biological processes slow down, and replanted with young and vigorous replacements, leading to a continual wood supply. In order to avoid any competition for nutrients, small and controlled fires are applied to clean things out, and the herbicides to prevent the regrowth of competitive understory. What could go wrong? Thanks to the frequently unpopular study of "inefficient" and "untidy" old-growth forests, with fallen logs rotting, whatever growing everywhere, older trees, and occasional large fires, we learn a not particularly surprising answer: you've removed habitat for symbiotic creatures that are necessary for fixing nitrogen, cycling nutrients, and fighting pests, leading to a multiple-generation time-bomb as the soil becomes depleted without replacement, creating a system requiring many more inputs in a costly way. Fortunately, we have a happier ending than in many cases. These discoveries lead to recommendation for a new forestry, which proposes that some logs grow old, the underbrush stays where it is, fallen logs stay where they are, and we make sure cycles stay intact, while still harvesting a reasonable amount of trees. Of course, it's disliked for being both too restrictive and too permissive in the way all fair trade-offs are, but it does have an encouraging influence on policy. This book gets the narrative arc through the human story of scientific careers, to the ecological dynamics of the forest, to the conflicts of policy right. This book pushes the same buttons as "Eating the Sun" while taking on a topic that is more human scale. This change in scale (mostly talking about the scientists of one particular research forest, mostly discovering observable processes instead of requiring electron microscopes, mostly within the history of the past thousand years rather than since the Cambrian explosion, mostly requiring the forest policy of states and nations rather than the worldwide response to climate change) means that the book can be much smaller while still covering the subject cohesively. Overall, it is an informative and pleasant story of things going right that is perfectly clear, perfectly paced, and right for our time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Subtitled "the biography of an ecosystem," this book focuses on the Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. At the same time, it offers a highly readable overview of forest ecology in the United States as a whole. Each chapter hits a major theme - for instance, what was learned about forest succession from major catastrophes of 1980 (Mount St Helen's, Michigan's Mack Lake fire), the role of fungi in the soil, and what forest fragmentation means for threatened and endangered species like the spott Subtitled "the biography of an ecosystem," this book focuses on the Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. At the same time, it offers a highly readable overview of forest ecology in the United States as a whole. Each chapter hits a major theme - for instance, what was learned about forest succession from major catastrophes of 1980 (Mount St Helen's, Michigan's Mack Lake fire), the role of fungi in the soil, and what forest fragmentation means for threatened and endangered species like the spotted owl. Along the way, we are introduced to to a number of the researchers who contributed to the development of the field, to key findings, and to basic concepts in ecology and whole-ecosystem study. We learn how the US Forest Service has responded to the science by moving toward "managing large landscapes for diversity" and "imitating natural disturbance patterns." As Jerry Franklin (one of the scientists featured in the book) says: "It's hard for people stuck with this concept of tidy agricultural forestry to accept...but what we're trying to suggest is that a little bit of chaos is a wonderful thing in a forest." The book makes a persuasive case for public support of long-term ecological studies like Andrews, Hubbard Brook, and other research sites supported by the National Science Foundation. Although the edition I read was published in 1999, already it anticipated the importance of such studies to understanding and tracking the impact of climate change. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in forests and trees.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    This book is a look at what we've learned in actually studying old-growth rather than cutting it down. The old paradigm of looking at forests viewed old-growth as "decadent," "unthrifty," and badly in need of management (i.e. clear-cutting and replanting in monoculture). So it's good that a group of researchers came together in the '70s to study a large tract of unlogged woods in the Oregon Cascades, and began to turn many of the assumptions about old-growth on their head. (Of course, it helps t This book is a look at what we've learned in actually studying old-growth rather than cutting it down. The old paradigm of looking at forests viewed old-growth as "decadent," "unthrifty," and badly in need of management (i.e. clear-cutting and replanting in monoculture). So it's good that a group of researchers came together in the '70s to study a large tract of unlogged woods in the Oregon Cascades, and began to turn many of the assumptions about old-growth on their head. (Of course, it helps that there was a general cultural sea change toward valuing wilderness and natural systems during this time period.) Luoma is a journalist and so takes us into various forests, talks with the experts, and gives a good layman's perspective of the science and politics surrounding forestry and public land management. In this book, one learns about the life and structure of old growth forests (particularly Pacific Northwest forests), e.g. the critical roles of fungi, soil organisms, small rodents, birds, disturbance regimes--basically the web of interconnections that makes a forest (or any ecosystem) "work."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book is about pacific northwest forest ecosystems. It is a great history of the long-term-ecological-research (LTER) station in Oregon known as the Andrews Experimental Forest (http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/). It discusses how research on forestry here has lead to many new ecological concepts and the evolution of forest management practices. It discusses the importance of species biodiversity, a basic ecology concept, and how it is directly related to the health of ecosystems. The au This book is about pacific northwest forest ecosystems. It is a great history of the long-term-ecological-research (LTER) station in Oregon known as the Andrews Experimental Forest (http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/). It discusses how research on forestry here has lead to many new ecological concepts and the evolution of forest management practices. It discusses the importance of species biodiversity, a basic ecology concept, and how it is directly related to the health of ecosystems. The author interviewed several forestry and Andrews Forest scientists to gather information about the history of forestry science and the politics behind it as well as the scientific methods used to learn about forest ecosystems. It opens your eyes to how special forest ecosystems are and how the unseen aspects of these systems (from microbes to leafy lichens) play major roles in fueling the system. It also discusses the effects humans have had on these ecosystems and how some of these effects are tied to politics, money, but ultimately the future health of forests, watersheds and humans.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Tell the story of a large scale science project focused on Andrews national forest. Give history, funny anecdotes, and provide snapshots of a beautiful, intricate ecosystem. It's a great concept, but it's poorly executed by an otherwise obviously skilled author. It starts off great, with soaring descriptions, intriguing science, and just plain good writing. But towards the middle, he veers into politics. The last quarter of the book isn't actually about Andrews national forest, and the final cha Tell the story of a large scale science project focused on Andrews national forest. Give history, funny anecdotes, and provide snapshots of a beautiful, intricate ecosystem. It's a great concept, but it's poorly executed by an otherwise obviously skilled author. It starts off great, with soaring descriptions, intriguing science, and just plain good writing. But towards the middle, he veers into politics. The last quarter of the book isn't actually about Andrews national forest, and the final chapter of the book is an unglossed greenfreak rant. It's a pity because the beginning was so good.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    An insiders look into the complex and often misunderstood life of Washington/Oregon foresters (the kind that study the trees, not cut them down) and the magnificent tress they study. Written in laymens terms, Luoma brings the rediculously comlacated science of forest ecology to the every day tree lover. I am of course bias with my deep love for the forests of the Pacific Northwest, but this book helped me see the deeper relationships between all living creatures, humans included.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Terry

    This is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It is also one of the only non-fiction books that I have read more than once, and can't wait to read again. This book talks about the whole ecosystem of H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest. I learned so much and the book was so well-written. I felt like I was reading a story about the forest, not facts. This is such an enjoyable read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Great book, overall. I really appreciated the way the book described breakthroughs in the field of ecology by studying old growth forests. I, however, was disappointed in the direction the book went for the final two chapters; not that I didn't agree with them, but they seemed off topic and out of left field. Overall, high recommendation for audience with an interest in ecology.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Even though written in 1999, therefore dated, this was a fascinating read about the Andrews Experimental Forest Center just 40 miles east of Eugene. Intent on improving forestry practices, the scientific team set out to intricately study a single old growth ecosystem

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Osbron

    Fantastic book that discusses many layers of forest ecosystems and the political controversies surrounding them without compromising either readability by loading up on jargon or scientific focus by leaving out theory.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Deana

    I'm currently getting my degree in Environmental Education. This book was assigned for one of my first quarter classes. I'm so glad because I'm not sure I would have discovered it otherwise.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    Great read- so fascinating to read about these gradual discoveries in the area of biodiversity & ecosystem function, and be reminded how much we have yet to learn! Great read- so fascinating to read about these gradual discoveries in the area of biodiversity & ecosystem function, and be reminded how much we have yet to learn!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    A very nice history of the Andrews Experimental Forest, and development of "the New Forestry".

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Cordero

    Read this book when i was working for the NPS. good read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael O'Brien

    If you love forests, read this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    it was a good primer on the pacific northwest forests and how much work it took to be where we are. stop cutting down trees!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maryanne

    The Hidden Forest: 11282007 The Biography of an Ecosystem by Jon R. Luoma

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kali Lake

    Fully. This book would have been a 5 star read if not for that one word.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Well written and easy to read, approachable by scientists and laypersons alike. At once depressing and inspiring.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    public-friendly pop science with a bit more meat than the average pop science book.

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