Dr. Brian McCarthy is a forest ecologist with expertise in deciduous forest ecosystems. He is among the few specialists focusing on the central Appalachian forests, therefore, works mostly in the mixed oak forests of southern Ohio and the central Appalachians.
Having always felt at home in the woods, he has studied forests and forest ecology since graduate school. At Ohio University he teaches courses on plant community ecology and biostatistics.
McCarthy studies the basic processes governing forest structure and function; e.g., how forests respond following disturbance such as fire or logging, how trees regenerate, and how forest herbs are distributed across the landscape. He has also conducted research projects examining the effects of invasive species on forest ecosystems such as garlic mustard ( Alliaria petiolata ), Tree-of-heaven ( Ailanthus altissima ), Amur honeysuckle ( Lonicera maackii ), and the “princess” or “empress” tree ( Paulownia tomentosa ). He continues to monitor a long-term study of forest change at Dysart Woods, an old-growth forest in southeastern Ohio.
McCarthy also focuses his research on the nearly extinct American chestnut ( Castanea dentata ), its ecology, how to restore the species back into the landscape, and how to use the tree for reclamation. The tree was the predominant species of the eastern deciduous forest in the 1800s. Around 1904, a fungus believed to have been brought in from Asia found its way into New York and infected all the chestnut trees across the entire range, from Maine to Mississippi. The fungus, also known as the chestnut blight, kills only the mature chestnut trees, unlike many other fungi and bacteria that affect the progeny. McCarthy says the genetic material of the American Chestnut is not gone. There are sprouts all over the landscape but these eventually die back when they mature.
McCarthy has worked with the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), a non-profit organization formed in the 1980s, to develop a blight-resistant chestnut through classical back-cross breeding methods, which can be raised and moved back out into its original forest and allowed to propagate. McCarthy has also researched how well the tree might thrive on reclaimed mine sites apart from the natural forest, turning it into a potential reclamation species. He also led a collaborative effort between OHIO, the Wayne National Forest, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Hocking College, Wild Tree Federation and TACF to conduct a progeny test of the chestnut. They brought together breeds from different states across the range to see how well they will do in Ohio. Students, faculty members and volunteers planted the trees at a site near Nelsonville.
McCarthy said if the tree is successfully reintroduced, it will again serve as a major food source for a large number of wild animals. The American chestnut was once popular for building homes, barns and fences; people referred to it as the “red wood of the east” because of its inherent rot-resistant properties. Because of the many positive attributes of American chestnut wood, McCarthy sees a potentially huge natural timber market in the future.
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