In 2004, Environmental Curator David Baker initiated an invasive species eradication project, work to remove Ligustrum sinense and Triadica sebifera from the land. These species, native to east Asia, interfere with the ecosystem of the bottomland hardwood forest by shading out hardwood seedlings, preventing their growth and the development of new canopy trees. Baker installed thirty-two ten-by-ten meter square research plots for long term monitoring of the project. Within the area of the plots all trees above two centimeters in diameter were mapped, measured for diameter, and damage described. These trees are surveyed annually for the above criteria, as well as any new trees that have reached two centimeters in diameter. Every two years an invasive species count is done within this area for the correlation to overall hardwood growth as it relates to invasive removal.
As of 2022, we are seeing signs of significant changes in the forest. Over the past few years, a Water Oak blight has killed dozens of the largest trees on the property and initiated a change in the composition of the forest – up to this point Water Oak has been the dominant species. Simultaneously, hurricane frequency is increasing to a point that the forest is not capable of recovering from. In October 2020, Hurricane Zeta directly hit the Studio, taking down fifteen trees over 80 feet tall. Following that storm, the canopy lowered from 90 feet to 30 feet. Then in August 2021, Hurricane Ida severely damaged about 5% of the living trees greater than 10 inches in diameter, largely affecting Water Oaks and Pecans. New holes in the canopy left by fallen trees from both storms have promoted growth of vines and shrubs, which will lead to a very different forest over the next few years. A competition is underway between these fast-growing species and the slower growing trees that have historically made up the bottomland hardwood forest. Two hurricanes in 10 months is extremely rare, and there is no research currently available on how this will effect the land.
Compounding those factors is subsidence, meaning the land in sinking below us. David Baker has been working to understand the net effect of all of these changes on the forest and has installed new research plots following Hurricane Zeta. He is also initiating a project to plant cypress and tupelo on the property, anticipating a general compositional shift from bottomland hardwood forest to cypress tupelo swamp. The past few years have seen the most drastic changes in the Woods since Baker began his work on the land in 2004. As Baker put it, “We are offering a front row seat to climate change.”