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ECOLOGY Researchers have been studying the unique lake at an Ilan County nature reserve to learn more about its largely unknown ecology


Rays of sunlight stream through the branches of a yellow cypress tree in the Yuan Yang Lake Natural Reserve. The yellow cypress tree thrives in the reserve. Ecologists are studying the unique distribution of dense moss and lichen on the trunk's surface. Photo: Chiu Yutzu, Taipei Times

In Taiwan, the high winds and heavy rain associated with typhoons can disturb ecosystems.

But according to ecologists doing researching at Yuan Yang Lake (鴛鴦湖), a rare mountain lake located in northeastern Taiwan, the ecosystem there has been sustained by such disturbances. Harsh weather can wipe out certain types of uncompetitive species and bring nutrients to adoptive ones.

"For the ecosystem at the lake, typhoons are sometimes like love -- deadly but necessary," said King Hen-biau (金恆鑣), director of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute under the Council of Agriculture.

The Yuan Yang Lake Natural Reserve, covers 374 hectares of mountainous areas between 1,650m and 2,432m above sea level. Since the early 1990s, ecologists have collected data important for environmental sustainability.

Because of its remoteness of the lake -- which is over an hour's drive on rugged paths leading out of Ilan City, the region has not been subjected to commercial development.

Taiwan's yellow cypress is a species of tree that thrives at Yuan Yang Lake Natural Reserve area. Because of year-round mist, rain and moisture, a dense blanket of moss and lichen grows on the tree's bark, which is of interest to ecologists. The moss grows often covers the entire tree as a result of the moisture.

Zoologists who also work at the reserve study endangered species that reside there, including the elaphe mandarina, the brown wood owl, the mandarin duck, the pine sparrow hawk and the gray-headed green woodpecker.

To better understand the unique ecosystem, scientists stay on the reserve for long periods of time to analyze the soil, vegetation, animals and chemical composition of precipitation.

The 3.3 hectare spoon-shaped lake is of scientific interest to ecologists. Its length is about 595m, but the narrowest part of the spoon's "handle" is only 20m wide. Scientists suspect that the lake was formed by water collected during landslides, as it only 15m deep.

"Because of the humid weather here, it's quite worthwhile comparing the characteristics of Yuan Yang Lake and others," said King, who is also chairman of the Long-Term Ecological Research network, which promotes comparative research between similar ecosystems.

With the advent of wireless Internet, researchers at Yuan Yang Lake now can connect with Wisconsin-based researchers. Last year, the National Center for High-Performance Computing deployed a buoy in the lake which transfers lake related information, such as the level of dissolved oxygen collected by sensors.

Through the Pacific Rim Applications & Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA) -- a unique collaboration among Asia-Pacific countries supported by the US National Science Foundation -- data collected at the lake is transferred to ecologists in other countries.

After just a few months of data collection, scientists observed something they had not seen before. Levels of dissolved oxygen in the lake would decrease during the day and increase at night, prompting scientists to test the temperature, photodegeneration of dissolved organic matter and flow of water. In addition, researchers also observed the impact and recovery of a series of major disturbances to the lake via typhoons -- a phenomena no one had recorded before.

Ecologists now are comparing Yuan Yang Lake's characteristics a lake in Wisconsin.

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