Throughout the Pacific Northwest, in night-time forests filled with ancient trees, northern flying squirrels forage in the duff of the forest floor. They are sniffing out truffles, the fruiting body of the Ascomycete fungus, which grow at the base of Douglas-fir trees. Unbeknownst to the squirrels, a chain of interactive events make their dinner of truffles possible.
The fungus and Douglas-fir have a symbiotic relationship. The tree provides sugars to the fungus through its roots, and in return, the fungus enhances the tree's absorption of nutrients and water. The truffle is the most visible part of the fungus, but miles of "hyphae," a microscopic branching web of fungus, create a circulatory system within the roots of the forest, uniting trees with essential nutrients.
As the squirrels move away, sniffing out more truffles, they leave scat behind. These little brown pellets are more than just poop. They are full of fungal spores that distribute the genetic legacy of the truffle throughout the forest.
In the Cedar River Municipal Watershed, this interconnected web of life is critical for the northern spotted owl. Although spotted owls have not been observed in the Watershed recently, with long-term forest protection and restoration, perhaps, one night, as a flying squirrel forages for truffles, a spotted owl will silently swoop down, ready for dinner.
Learn more about these hidden connections with two watershed ecologists at Adventures in Forest Ecology >
From bats to elk, the Cedar River Watershed is home to at least 40 species of mammals. The black bear, Ursus americanus, is one of the largest. These bears prefer densely forested landscapes, making the watershed a perfect place for them to live. While a black bear can weigh up to 500 pounds, these omnivores are usually wary of people. Many watershed employees consider it good luck to see a bear.