When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, it leveled more than 230 square miles of forest, but it also opened a rare scientific opportunity to study how an ecosystem responds after an extreme disturbance.
Washington State University ecologists John Bishop, professor of biological sciences and Mark Swanson, associate professor in the school of the environment, have been involved in Mount St. Helens long-term research for decades and are preparing for the next generation of work. They each focus on different areas affected by the blast. No matter how severe the damage on the landscape, life has found a way to return and brought valuable insights with it.
“If we want to understand the natural processes of how plant and animal communities come to be and change, the best way is to watch that process unfold over time,” said Bishop. “Mount St. Helens is a nearly ideal place to do that.”