Mount St. Helens’ explosive eruption on May 18, 1980, was a pivotal moment in the field of disturbance ecology. The subsequent sustained, integrated research effort has shaped the development of volcano ecology, an emerging field of focused research. Excessive heat, burial, and impact force are some of the disturbance mechanisms following an eruption. They are also mechanisms of other, nonvolcanic disturbances. Studying ecosystem response to these disturbances across the gradient of disturbance intensity created by the 1980 eruption has revealed lessons relevant to the process of succession in Pacific Northwest forests and to other disturbed areas.
Charlie Crisafulli, an ecologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, has worked on Mount St. Helens for the past 36 years. He and colleagues recently developed a database that provides information on eruption sites around the world. They compiled the literature on all studies related to volcano ecology published between 1883 and 2015. This is enabling them to identify universal lessons on ecosystem response to disturbance versus lessons specific to the Mount St. Helen’s eruption and setting.
An effort is underway to archive the hundreds of thousands of data collected from Mount St. Helens and to preserve biological samples at museums around the country, ensuring they will be accessible to future generations of researchers.
Mazza, Rhonda; Crisafulli, Charlie. 2016. Volcano ecology: flourishing on the flanks of Mount St. Helens. Science Findings 190. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.