MSU Team Studies Ecosystem Response to Wenchun Earthquake

Author:  Emma Loewe

Institution:  Duke University

A team of Michigan State University scientists has published their findings on the ecosystem response to China’s Wenchun earthquake. This marks the first multi-year field study conducted on the environmental response to a natural disaster.

"Our evaluation of the restoration project will have a guiding role in the restoration scheme areas across the entire area affected by the earthquake,” said Jindong Zhang, a post-doctoral research associate involved in the study.

Wenchun hit the Sichuan province of China in May 2008, leaving 87,150 dead or missing and 4.8 million civilians homeless. In terms of economic loss, it was one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Zhang and his team’s 4 year study sought to determine if the storm’s environmental impact was equally severe.

Their findings indicate that much of the natural areas affected by the storm are on the road to recovery, thanks to a $17 million restoration and replanting effort funded by powerhouses such as the National Science Foundation and NASA. Civilians living in the region have conducted most of said replanting.

Since the province holds 10% of the endangered wild giant panda population, their habitat was of special concern. The earthquake devastated sections of forest and bamboo groves that the pandas depend upon for food and shelter. The replanting effort has restored nearly 70% of vegetation in these natural habitats.

"Our study indicated that forest restoration after natural disasters should not only consider the forest itself, but also take into account the animals inhabiting the ecosystem,” added Zhang.

MSU’s recent restoration study emphasizes the importance of on-the-ground assessments of disaster relief initiatives and highlights the positive effects of China’s Wenchun recovery program.