Publisher: Springer Date of Publication: 2005
Price: € 32.05 ISBN: 0 387 23850 6
Pages:xx + 342 Format: Paperback

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1 - Introduction; 2 - Survival and establishment of plant communities; 3 - Survival and establishment of animal communities;4 - Responses of ecosystem processes; 5 - Lessons leaned.



The eruption of Mt St Helens in 1980 was one of the most significant events of recent times. It allowed us to have an almost unprecedented chance to examine ecological processes at work. Much of this work has been put online in recent times (start here for example) but it is not always easy to get hold of (here, for example). In this 25th anniversary year, this book (and its website) have been set up to remedy the problem. 47 researchers and writers have got together to produce this text reviewing what we know up to now.

The book has 20 contributions divided into 5 parts. Part one provides an overview of the situation. The first chapter provides a brief review of the eruption and a guide to the rest of the text. This is followed by two chapters describing the geological and ecological changes prior to (chapter two) and since (chapter three) the eruption in May 1980. From this point, the text divides into specific areas to look at processes in more detail. Part two focusses on plants. Much of the area was covered in tephra (ash). Although very near the eruption zone all plants died further away some of the trees did survive. Chapter four outlines how trees in this situation responded. One of the most interesting aspects was the way in which plant re-colonisation occurred. Colonisation was not equally rapid or widespread; the underlying geology and geomorphology had much to do with it. Here, the reader is given data showing the response in debris and mudflow situations. Not all areas lost vegetation evenly either. Some small pockets (microsites) did have better survival rates. Finally in this section there's a chance to see the impact of aerial imaging on the problem. Part three looks at animal communities. As with plants, animal survival and re-colonisation was due partly to proximity to the eruption and also the microsite conditions but it also depended upon species. First on the study are the arthropods. The argument was put forward that these, along with micro-organisms would be the first to re-colonise the area. Since this was one of the first sites to allow such study the results were significant - arthropods were certainly pioneer colonists often considerably before the plant communities (implying that not all arthropods were able to re-colonise). This work is followed by a more detailed look at ground-dwelling beetles. The Mt St Helens region was also an important aquatic ecosystem and so fish recovery is an important study. In common with other organisms, the effects were uneven and even two decades later the full trophic situation has yet recover. A similar picture emerges with the amphibian studies. One might expect mammals to be one of the more badly hit groups but research showed that their responses were better than expected with some badly hit areas at almost pre-eruption levels. Part four looks at the ecosystem-level changes. Here we get information about those species and relationships that govern wider processes. For example, chapter 15 looks at Mycorrhizae and the issue of symbiosis. Next we see how nutrient cycles and decomposition are influenced by the eruption. Some key plants are needed to start the re-vegetation process. The presence of legumes (in this case, lupins) is crucial as studies have demonstrated. Finally in this section we see how lakes have recovered. Part five looks at what we can learn from these events. Management is a key issue - public safety and ecological study need to be prioritised. Also, as our concluding chapter makes clear, it has become an unprecedented laboratory for ecological processes.

This is a fascinating book. It provides one of the very few detailed accounts of change. Since the eruption there has been a chance to look at the way in which ecological theory is backed by actual experience. It follows that for those interested in this study, this is a crucial text. Mt St Helens makes a superb case study: this text makes the work accessible for those outside the immediate research community.


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