A Different Kind of Eruption

Back in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens,  there was so much destruction to the area. In fact, the event began with the largest landslide in recorded history. Im sure that nobody would have thought life would come back so quickly. The destruction of the land due to the eruption can still be seen today with dead trees still littering the land. Smaller eruptions have occurred a top Mount St. Helens since 1980 but nothing to the extent of the eruption of 1980.  The opportunity scientists are getting today is an opportunity to study a different type eruption, an eruption of life. The once barren land around Mount St. Helens is rebuilding itself with new life and organisms.

As new plant life grows and animal life returns to the area, scientists are coming back to study how an environment torn apart by a disaster can rebound to a thriving environment. Up until about 10 or so years ago, only small flowering plants called lupins that can grow on the volcanic rock and ash were present. Now, after these plants have been able to break up the rock into a more fertile soil, larger plants and trees have come into the picture and are beginning to reform the once lifeless mountain into a haven for some species. There is one issue that has been troubling scientists. The willows that are trying to grow in the area aren’t getting big. This causes trouble because these trees create a nice habitat to support mammals and birds.

The culprit was determined to be small insects that made their way into the trees and called them home. The insects are called weevils. The presence of the weevils in the trees stunts their growth and can even kill the trees. These little insects are a very important part in the new environment. They essentially decide which plant life will live and thrive and which will not. This imbalance of plants and insects is to be expected in environments like the one found on Mount St. Helens. This imbalance will probably remain until the environment changes on the mountain (due to another disaster) if the environment becomes more complex.

This unique chance to study how life rebuilds itself gives evolutionary biologists a first hand look into how life can go from nothing to a flourishing environment. Scientists may not get many opportunities to do these types of studies in their life so they are jumping on the Mount St. Helens sight. They may get lucky again though with all the recent volcanic activity over in Indonesia with Mount Merapi.

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