Delving into the Roots of Sequoia Trees

Professor Stephen Hart, a UC Merced ecologist, was kind enough to discuss his passion and enthusiasm for the research that he is currently conducting in the Merced and Mariposa groves at Yosemite National Park.

The giant sequoias are the gem on the diadem that is Yosemite National park and are known for their great height. However, what goes on in their roots and soil is a mystery that Hart is investigating.

Professor Hart collaborates with students and faculty from our sister campuses UC Riverside and UC Berkeley.

“My research interests are interactions between plants and soils, and climate change. It started as this small Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) project and it quickly became a monster!”Professor Hart said with enthusiasm.  “This project was initiated in 2013 by a student I mentored. It’s so inspiring to see so many fantastic students participate.”

Professor Hart compares how the sequoia trees and sugar pine trees replenish nutrients in the soil. The sugar pine trees are his control variable in his study. In comparison to the sugar pine, soil underneath the sequoias possessed elevated nutrient levels.

“The more we understand how they interact with their ecosystem, we can then understand how we can better interact with ours,” he stated. His team is investigating to understand how these different tree species and their environment affect one another.

Observing soil is not as simple as one would think. Unfortunately, this study has restrictions that can be incredibly frustrating for Professor Hart and his team.

He explained, “Having a species that’s protected makes it difficult to investigate. There’s hoops and hurdles to get an opportunity to study them…like permits.”  He got in touch with a botanist who stated that the last time a scientist was allowed to dig trenches to observe the roots was fifty years ago!

Maybe one day the ancient mysteries of the sequoia root patterns will be solved.


Marleen Apodaca
Staff Writer

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