Photo of Katherine J. Elliott

Katherine J. Elliott

Research Ecologist
3160 Coweeta Lab Road (10 miles south of Franklin and west 3 miles from US-441)
Otto, NC 28763
Phone: 828-524-2128 x110

Current Research

Forest ecosystems, restoration ecology, fire ecology, and community ecology. Investigate vegetation dynamics (mortality, regeneration, composition, and diversity changes) of forest species following forest disturbances (cutting, burning, windthrow, and insects and pathogens); and (2) assess variation in vegetation dynamics across environmental gradients, feedback linkages between vegetation dynamics and ecosystem processes, and responses to stressors and other disturbances. Current and future research emphasizes the effects of multiple disturbances on vegetation dynamics and relates these dynamics to ecosystem processes such as net primary production and water, nutrient and carbon cycling in southern Appalachian forest communities.

Research Interests

Riparian area structure and function; Rhododendron maximum in riparian areas; loss of eastern hemlock; and restoration of riparian areas. The role of a diverse herbaceous flora in ecosystem function.

Past Research

Nutrient Cycling Modeling using NUCM: Predicting future response to altered atmospheric environmental conditions requires a modeling approach because of the complexities of nutrient cycling processes in forest ecosystems.

Southwestern pine ecosystems. Regeneration of ponderosa pine is a problem for resource managers in the Southwest because of the increased frequency of large wildfires. Part of the regeneration problem is attributable to competition for water from grasses sown on the burned sites. I investigated how different herbaceous species affect survival and growth of ponderosa pine seedlings and whether various herbaceous species had different effects on pine seedling water potential, soil moisture, and soil nitrogen.

Competitive effects of northern hardwoods on planted red pine growth, nutrient use efficiency, and leaf morphology. On sites previously occupied by northern hardwoods in the northeastern U.S., large industrial landowners often plant conifers after clearcutting because these species are preferred for pulp and paper products. I examined the competitive effects of three northern hardwood species on planted red pine seedlings.

Why This Research is Important

In many regions, riparian areas contribute significantly to plant diversity in a watershed by providing unique habitat. Near-stream vegetation operates synergistically with geology, soils and topography to influence channel form, in-stream habitat, nutrient dynamics, and temperature and flow patterns. The diversity and productivity of riparian communities are strongly linked to the condition of the landscape, and maintaining some level of protection to streamside vegetation is believed to be integral to preserving the biological integrity of steam ecosystems.

Knowledge of the functional role of diversity is important for evaluating how changes in vegetation diversity impact ecosystem processes such as net primary production and nutrient and water cycling. The experimental removal of a species or a functional group of species from an ecosystem can provide information on their contribution to ecosystem function.


Ph.D. in Forest Ecology, 1991
University of Maine
M.S. in Forest Ecology, 1985
Northern Arizona University
B.S. in Forest Science, 1982
Northern Arizona University

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Long-term Study Points to the Benefits of Partial Cutting Over Clearcutting in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (2019)
SRS-2019-32 Results from a USDA Forest Service research study initiated in 1942 are now available. The study assessed the long-term impact of harvesting practices that were common prior to the 1950s. The study shows that historical partial harvesting practices did not affect tree species composition and diversity, whereas clearcut harvesting reduced diversity and altered species composition.

Shifting Rainfall Patterns May Change Southern Appalachian Forest Structure (2015)
SRS-2015-216 Changes in rainfall patterns in the southern Appalachians due to climate change could reduce growth in six hardwood tree species common to the region. The findings have implications for forest managers in the southeast, where climate variability such as more extreme storms coupled with increasingly severe droughts could cause major shifts in forest composition and structure.

Water yield following forest to grass to forest transitions (2017)
SRS-2017-152 Forested watersheds are important sources of drinking water. However, species identity affects water yield from deciduous forests. Through old-field succession, changes in species composition over time determine how much precipitation leaves the watershed as evapotranspiration versus water yield.