Tom Wessels, MA
Department of Environmental Studies
This thesis is an environmental history of old-growth forests in southwestern New Hampshire. From 1907, the year Harvard foresters began ecological research on these forests, until 1930, the year a massive hurricane hit the region, a number of natural and cultural disturbance regimes were observed to effect significant change in the development and succession of plant communities. Ecological thought prior to, and for much of this period, had generally agreed that old-growth forests, often referred to as virgin or primeval, were inherently stable, and balanced. Frederic Clements promoted and advanced these theories in the field of dynamic ecology. The Pisgah studies were finding evidence to the contrary. This paper surveys the ecological disturbances that were impacting and reducing the extent of old-growth forest in the Pisgah tract during the period 1907 to 1938. It also focuses on the dialectic in ecological thought occurring at the time, which work to understand the paradoxical perspectives of stability and flux in plant communities, and find a more central role for disturbance regimes in theories of ecological succession.