Bamboo, Wind and Fire

One of my primary biological interests is bamboos, including their disturbance ecology and clonal and reproductive biology. Bamboos are both intriguing biologically and important as natural resources. Bamboos are semelparous - they flower, seed and die only after decades of clonal growth. These giant forest grasses compete with trees in temperate and tropical habitats around the world, sometimes forming monodominant stands where diverse tree species might otherwise grow. Bamboo stands are often critical habitat for wildlife. Many bamboos are also key renewable resources, useful in various types of construction, as fiber, and as ornamental landscape plants.

  • Bottomland hardwood forest
  • Bamboo growing in small forest gap
  • Large, torando-generated gap in same forest

I have sought to understand how a native North American bamboo responds to windstorm and fire disturbances, and how that response might enable the bamboo to control space alongside much larger forest trees. My research with giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea, Muhl.) has demonstrated that multiple ecological disturbances can interact to greatly accelerate clonal growth in this bamboo, potentially leading to the formation of dense, pyrogenic and monodominant stands (called "canebrakes") like those described by Bartram and other early explorers of the southeastern U.S. (Gagnon & Platt 2008a, Gagnon et al. 2007). I have also studied bamboo reproductive and seedling ecology, and my observations support the hypothesis that gregarious flowering of bamboos may be driven by pollen limitation (Gagnon & Platt 2008b).

  • Prescribed fire in a stand of Arundinaria gigantea
  • After the fire
  • Resprouting after the fire

I will continue exploring bamboo ecology in various ways. I now have multiple years of annual census data on all life stages of giant cane, with which I intend to explore long-term effects of windstorm and fire disturbances on the clonal ecology and reproductive biology of the plant using life table response experiments and stochastic demographic models. I have collected approximately one thousand leaves from each of two different bamboos (the other being Guadua sarcocarpa, Lond. & Pete. from the western Amazon), which I intend to genotype as part of a project exploring the underlying population and clonal structure of these two giant forest grasses. I am open to exploring other research possibilities around the world relating to bamboos.

  • The Tambopata River in the western Amazon basin of Peru
  • Tourist lodge and research station
  • Forest interspersed with dense, monodominant bamboo thickets
  • Guadua sarcocarpa grappling onto tree
  • With no trees around, it piles up on the ground
  • G. sarcocarpa is large, with big leaves
  • New shoots grow quickly - some are red like this
  • Guadua culms have large thorns at each node...
  • ...and smaller recurved thorns at branch nodes
  • Culms lock into canopy. Pulling one down for leaf
  • If culm won't pull down, shimmy up for a leaf