News Release

USDA Grants Support SRS Research in the Southern Appalachians

January 12, 2012

Asheville, NC — Two SRS units--the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory and the Upland Hardwoods Ecology and Management unit--recently received word that their scientists, along with university collaborators, received grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) for studies based in the Southern Appalachian region. AFRI supports research, education, and extension in priority areas that include renewable energy, natural resources, and the environment.

Water Supply in the Appalachian Mountains

Over the next 5 years, SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory (Coweeta) scientists and collaborators will receive $460,000 from the NIFA AFRI for a project designed to help predict changes of water supply in the Southern Appalachian region over the course of the 21st century. Coweeta scientists Chelcy Ford, Jim Vose, Kimberly Novick, with University of Minnesota scientists Paul Bolstad and Steven Brantley, received the grant, with Ford as principal investigator.

The funded project is a mix of basic and applied research centered in the Southern Appalachian headwaters, which provide high-quality water for drinking and recreation for more than 18 million people in the region. Though the relationship between forest condition and water supply is generally understood, most current knowledge is based on experiments conducted on a fairly narrow range of forest age classes and is not adequate for estimating impacts from landscape-level changes due to climate variation and land use shifts.

The newly funded project will address this gap by collecting hydrologic data from eastern deciduous forests ranging from early succession to old-growth, with the ultimate purpose of improving the ability to forecast future water budgets in relation to forest conditions in major watersheds.

Effects of Harvest Strategies on Biodiversity

Research ecologist Susan Loeb from the SRS Upland Hardwoods Ecology and Management unit and university cooperators received a 5-year NIFA AFRI grant of $479,000 to look at how the size and distribution of early successional habitat patches in the mountains of North Carolina affect biodiversity. The project is a cooperative study among SRS, Western Carolina University, Clemson University, and the Nantahala National Forest, with Loeb as the principal investigator.

Early successional habitat ( ) can be defined as forest where recent disturbance has resulted in an open or absent canopy. Many species of plants and animals depend on relatively open, early successional habitats, but the past few decades have seen a decline in these types of areas due to the abandonment of farms, development, and the suppression of natural disturbances such as fire, beaver activity, and flooding.

For the funded project, researchers will look at whether using timber harvest strategies to create patches of early successional habitat can increase the abundance of early successional species in a stand while maintaining timber yield and creating favorable public perception. Different harvest patterns and intensities will be used; researchers will focus on birds, bats, and plants as important indicators of biodiversity, and will use a variety of methods to measure public perception of the treatments.

The results will provide managers of both public and private lands with some publicly acceptable and economically feasible strategies to restore early successional species to the Southern Appalachian landscape.