experiment, remembers the group had a quick “Aha!” moment. They decided to conduct a traditional experiment to determine, beyond mere correlation, just what effect forest fragmentation had on cowbird parasitism.
“Everybody sat there kind of stunned,” remembers Sheriff, and for good reason. An experiment is much more complicated than a study, yet it offers well-built, stronger insights. As the group warmed to it, ideas flew out, and it was decided that the experiment should include amphibians, reptiles, deer, turkey, butterflies and soft mast production. In a snap, the Neotropical songbird spark had roared into an ecosystem-wide fire. Over the next year, the group developed the study’s focus and found suitable MDC land in Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties to host the project.
Nine sites of about 1,000 acres each, in close proximity to one another, were chosen for the experiment. Each site was mostly forested, with minimal edge or disturbance, and mostly free from any harvest or other management activities for at least 40 years. The nine sites are grouped into three blocks, and within each block, one site receives even-aged forest management, another receives uneven-aged forest management and the third is no-harvest forest management. Even-aged forest management uses clear cutting, which removes an entire stand of trees, to regenerate the forest. Uneven-aged forest management removes single scattered trees or small groups of trees to regenerate the forest and no-harvest forest management serves as a control for the experiment. Because timber forests in the Ozarks are managed in 100-year cycles, or rotations, roughly the lifespan of many of the species in current oak-hickory forests, MOFEP is designed to continue for at least 100 years, but there’s hope that it will extend to 200 or 300.
For several years before the first round of harvests in 1996, MOFEP researchers collected voluminous baseline site data that ranged from soil type to landscape structure to ecological history to flora and fauna composition, all to be used as a background with which to compare the post-harvest data. As one MOFEP researcher wrote, the pre-treatment study “is the largest summary of Ozark forest conditions ever assembled.”
Big Design, Big Challenges
With its broad design, MOFEP operates with the understanding that overall complexity, founded on biological diversity, leads to sustainability. To really understand the effects of a particular timber harvest method on even just one bird species, the effects have to be understood, as