News and Events
Millions of people depend on the forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains for drinking water. As climate, land use, and land cover changes alter the forest structure in these mountains, they also alter water budgets. “The Southern Appalachian Mountains are a humid montane environment – they are essentially a cooler version of the tropics,” explains USDA Forest Service project leader and research ecologist Chelcy Miniat. “With so much rain coming in, it is important to understand how the forests use the water, especially when the remainder becomes the South’s drinking water supply.”
The red-headed woodpecker has enjoyed better days. Over the past five decades, the species has suffered sharp declines in the northern and western parts of its range. While that much is clear, the role of their diets in the declines is not. A recent USDA Forest Service study observed the diets of nestling woodpeckers to aid with conservation efforts.
In 1989, South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest lost close to a third of its pine and hardwood trees to Hurricane Hugo. USDA Forest Service land managers have spent the last thirty years recovering from that disturbance and working to meet the state’s growing needs for clean water, forest products, recreation areas, and wildlife habitat.
To that end, the Francis Marion adopted a new forest plan in 2017 focused upon restoring longleaf pine, the once-dominant southern species, across 33,000 acres of national forest lands.
Not everyone knows from an early age what they want to do when they grow up. I did. Raised in a small coastal Maine town that was home base for marine and estuarine research and with an affinity for the outdoors, I knew I was destined to pursue a career in marine biology.
Mangrove forests are among the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet. Their stilt-like roots trap carbon and other nutrients that rivers have carried to the coastal deltas where mangroves grow. They act as a buffer, protecting coastlines and the people who live there from increasingly strong seas and storm surges. People depend on mangrove forests as nurseries for fish and as sources of wood fuel and timber.
Get a first-person, “fish eye” view of a brook trout inventory! The Southern Research Station Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer team counts trout populations each year. Follow along with one trout to learn how and why these inventories are performed.
We took a trip to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to meet up with the Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer team and see a trout stream inventory in action!
Forests are made of three-dimensional life forms that constantly interact with each other and with the abiotic factors in their environment. A recent study shows how complex those interactions can be.
“Trees growing within an evergreen shrub layer can be almost 20 feet shorter than trees without a shrub layer,” says USDA Forest Service scientist Katherine Elliott.
What will fish communities of the North Carolina Piedmont look like in the future?
“Many factors could affect this,” says U.S. Forest Service research hydrologist Peter Caldwell. “Water withdrawals could be one of the most important.”
Coyotes arrived in the Southeast relatively recently. “Beginning in the early 20th century, coyotes started moving eastward,” says John Kilgo, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “But they weren’t recorded in South Carolina until the late 1970s.”
Since 1950, heavy rains have become more common in the southern Appalachians. U.S. Forest Service researchers have witnessed such changes at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory.
“Coweeta receives as much as 90 inches of rain each year,” says SRS researcher Chelcy Miniat. “The topography is steep, and the bedrock is solid. We can account for most of the rainfall that enters the basin.”
The U.S. Forest Service recently completed an updated national fish and aquatic strategy titled Rise to the Future: National Fish and Aquatic Strategy. This plan builds on three decades of success and lessons learned from the original Rise to the Future Fisheries Strategy in 1987.
Wild animals are often immersed in a mortal struggle. For white-tailed deer fawns, the struggle entails hiding from predators like coyotes.
Whether small and shrubby or tall and majestic, mangroves have an unusual ability – they are specially adapted to grow in brackish water, and can tolerate ocean waves lapping at their stilt-like roots. As stands mature, soil and decaying plant matter becomes captured in the intricate web of their roots.
In the southeastern U.S., loblolly pine plantations cover about 37 million acres of land. “Growing switchgrass in loblolly pine plantations could provide a sustainable source of biomass for cellulosic energy,” says U.S. Forest Service research hydrologist Devendra Amatya.
SRS Scientists pen chapters in Forest Hydrology
Dr. Devendra Amatya, Research Hydrologist, is the lead editor and coauthor of Forest Hydrology – Processes, Management and Applications. Dr. Ge Sun, Research Hydrologist (4854) and Dr. Jim Vose, Project Leader (4853) each have chapters in the book. The book covers almost all aspects of forest hydrology, in multiple environments – from tundra to the tropics and was prepared under an invitation of UK-based CABI publishers. The book is geared to assist graduate students, professionals, land managers, practitioners, and researchers gain a better understanding of forest hydrology.
Extreme Precipitation Event at Santee EF topic of Presentation
Extreme and prolonged flooding in many parts of South Carolina on Oct. 3 and 4 2015 was a result associated with Hurricane Joaquin that came into the eastern Atlantic Coast. The persistent deep easterly flow, the continuous supply of moisture, and the circulation of the hurricane caused this extreme weather event. Dr. Devendra Amatya, Research Hydrologist, has studied, written and presented on this event. He also presented at an invited session organized by the Southeastern Section of Geological Society of America in Columbia, SC. Preliminary Hydro-meteorologic Assessment of an Extreme Precipitation Event on Santee Experimental Forest Watersheds. He also presented his findings at the South Carolina Water Resources Conference also in Columbia, SC (Extreme Precipitation Event on Santee Experimental Forest Watersheds, SC).
Katherine Elliott discusses preparatory measures being taken at Coweeta in the face of the Rock Mountain Fire.
Research Ecologist Chris Oishi discusses techniques for measuring sap flux, and introduces a new processing program that can help interpret and normalize this data.
After disturbances, healthy ecosystems are usually resilient enough to return to a pre-disturbance state. However, some disturbances are extreme enough to permanently shift an ecosystem, a phenomenon known as a regime shift.
Deer hunting is a very popular activity in South Carolina, generating about $200 million in direct retail sales annually. The 2015 Deer Hunter Survey published in late May by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) showed that the statewide harvest of deer in 2015 decreased about 4 percent from the previous year, which was partially attributed to poor hunting conditions due to heavy flooding throughout the state during the fall.
Historically, many oak forests across the eastern U.S. experienced frequent low-intensity fires that promoted the establishment and growth of oaks. “However, fire and other disturbances have become less common,” says U.S. Forest Service scientist James Vose. “Red maple, tulip poplar, and other mesophytic, fire-sensitive, and shade-tolerant trees are increasing in many areas of the eastern U.S.”
In the densely populated southeastern U.S., forested watersheds are particularly important to drinking water supplies. Recent estimates show that southern forests deliver surface drinking water to some 48.7 million people, with streams from the mountainous Southern Appalachian region alone providing water supplies to 10 million, many of them living in major cities such as Atlanta, Georgia.
Carbon and nitrogen are always on the move. Both elements are versatile – they are constantly being converted from one form to another, and are required by all living things. “Because plants, animals, and microbes also require fixed ratios of the two elements, carbon and nitrogen’s chemical cycles are inherently linked,” says U.S. Forest Service soil scientist Jennifer Knoepp.
Trees pull water into their roots, where some of it moves up the trunk against the pull of gravity. This upward movement, which is described by the cohesion-tension theory, is possible because of the chemical nature of water. Water molecules are attracted to each other (cohesion), so just before a water molecule evaporates from the leaf’s surface, it pulls (tension) another to the surface, and so on.
On a recent sampling trip to the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama a team led by U.S. Forest Service scientist Susie Adams scooped up a crayfish from a river flowing into the Lewis Smith Reservoir. The crayfish had a distinctive black, orange, and white color pattern on the tips of its largest claws, which quickly caught the team’s attention because it didn’t look like any crayfish known to live in the streams and rivers where they were working.
From the depths of the soil to the top of the atmosphere, nitrogen is everywhere. It is also indispensable to plants and animals. The vast majority of nitrogen atoms contain the same number of uncharged particles. However, a few atoms are ‘stable’ isotopes that have one extra uncharged particle. Although the extra particle adds a miniscule amount of weight – much less than one trillionth of an ounce – living things prefer compounds that contain the lighter nitrogen atom to the heavier isotope.