Quoting a recent article in IU News:
“When strong winds cause trees to uproot, they leave a recognizable signature on the forest floor,” said Tyler Doane, a former IU postdoctoral researcher who led the study. “In southern Indiana, we found that the disturbances left by these trees can serve as a reliable proxy for windstorms that occurred over the last decades to centuries.”
Wind-toppled trees, also known as windthrow, play a significant role in shaping the foothills that dot southern Indiana and other parts of the world. Windthrow creates gaps in the forest canopy that affect forests’ structure and their capacity to absorb carbon, an important factor for forests’ abilities to offset climate change. The pit-mound shapes of fallen trees provide habitat for threatened species like salamanders; they also contain loose soil and sediment that migrates downhill and changes the hillslope surface over time.
“If you go out into the woods, you’ll see windthrow everywhere,” said Brian Yanites, a co-author of the study and an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “But only in the last decade have we been able to see a picture of the forest floor that allows us to do this kind of science.”