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In the News


Burning Forests Impact Water Supplies

prescribed_fire_EVallery_Bugwood_5432804.jpgAfter a wildland fire burns away vegetation, rivers may rise. This could provide some relief for water supplies in drought-stricken areas, but there are trade-offs, according to a new study led by Center scientists and published in Nature Communications. “The bad news is that burned forests can cause water quality problems from soil erosion and sediment during flooding, immediately or long after the fires have occurred. This is especially problematic in watersheds that provide drinking water downstream,” explains research hydrologist Ge Sun. In the first nationwide study of wildland fire impacts on surface freshwater resources, researchers examined three decades of fire data along with climate and streamflow from 168 river basins. They found the most significant post-fire streamflow increases in the drier parts of the Lower Colorado Basin, in the Pacific Northwest, and in California. "The large scale of this study enabled us to determine that the annual river flow changed, and in most cases increased, when a fifth of the basin or more was burned by wildland fire,” says hydrologist Dennis Hallema, the study's lead author. In the southeastern United States, researchers found no significant change in streamflow after prescribed burns, which typically take place over smaller areas and burn less hot. Results from the study, which was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, can help land managers design mitigation strategies to suit local climate, watershed characteristics, and wildland fire conditions. Read more about the study in news releases from Nature Communications, the Southern Research Station, and Oregon State University, and listen to an interview on Phoenix-based KJZZ radio...

Pictured: In the Southeast, low intensity prescribed fires on smaller areas did not show appreciable streamflow increase for large watersheds. Photo by Erich Vallery, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.


How Will Fish Fare in the North Carolina Piedmont?

Charlotte_skyline_NC.National.Guard.jpgWater withdrawals could be one of the most important factors affecting future fish communities in the fast-growing North Carolina Piedmont, say federal and university scientists who recently published a study in the journal Freshwater Biology. Center scientists Steve McNulty and Ge Sun are among the study's coauthors who projected fish species richness (number of species) under different future scenarios of water withdrawals, land cover, and climate. In addition to using fish data from the NC Division of Water Resources, the scientists used the Water Supply Stress Index (WaSSI) model to predict streamflow characteristics, such as the maximum amount and variability of streamflow, as well as the amount of streamflow originating on parking lots and other impervious surfaces. Results suggest that water withdrawals of 25 percent of natural flow could cause more than three species to disappear. Climate change and increases in impervious cover may not affect fish species richness across the region as a whole, but, in smaller watersheds, increases in impervious cover could also cause more than three fish species to disappear. Water managers can use this modeling approach to identify areas of concern or hotspots where changes in streamflow could threaten fish communities in order to make informed decisions about water conservation. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Increasing water withdrawals in the NC Piedmont, including citites like Charlotte, could impact future fish communities across the region. Photo by North Carolina National Guard.


Forest Service Deputy Chief Honors Center Research Hydrologist

2017_rd_deputy_chief_awardees.jpgCenter research hydrologist Ge Sun is one of four Forest Service scientists who have received 2017 Deputy Chief's Awards for outstanding contributions to research and science delivery. Sun was honored with a Distinguished Science award "for his sustained productivity and leadership in forest hydrology research, including the development and application of hydrological models and tools for global natural resource management in a changing environment." Research and Development Deputy Chief Carlos Rodriguez-Franco presented the awards during a ceremony on February 7 in Washington, DC. Southern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick accepted the award on behalf of Sun, who was also recently honored with a Forest Service Chief's Honor Award. Read more about the 2017 Deputy Chief's Awards...

Pictured: Carlos Rodriguez-Franco (right) presented 2017 Deputy Chief Awards to four Forest Service scientists on February 7. Rob Doudrick (left) accepted a Distinguished Science award on Sun's behalf. Photo by Joyce El Kouarti, U.S. Forest Service.


Climate Influences the Male-Female Balance in Longleaf Pines

Longleaf_male_strobili_UGA_Bugwood.jpg“Abundant evidence demonstrates that climate change affects plants in multiple ways, but some new studies have indicated that these effects could emerge in surprising ways,” says Eastern Threat Center research ecologist Qinfeng Guo. He and partners studying longleaf pines have discovered that temperature changes may be related to a shift in the density of pollen, with implications for cone crops, seed production, and future long-term sustainability. Their study, which was recently published in Plant Ecology & Diversity, centered on 56 years of data collected from longleaf pines on the Escambia Experimental Forest in Alabama. When the researchers paired each year of pollen, conelet, and cone counts with weather data from each previous year, they found that warmer weather resulted in greater pollen production. With relatively fewer female conelets to be fertilized under these conditions, cone and seed production became more variable. In cooler years, pollen production showed a relative decrease, limiting fertilization potential. As researchers learn more about these shifts in the male-female balance, forest managers may need to prepare to step in to ensure that populations can be sustained through a changing climate. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Male catkins on longleaf pine before (right) and after (left) releasing pollen. Photo by University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.


How Cold Is Too Cold for Redbay Ambrosia Beetles?

Sassafras_distribution_and_beetle_mortality_Biological_Invasions.jpgNonnative redbay ambrosia beetles and the fungus they carry cause laurel wilt--a disease that threatens the entire Lauraceae family of plants in North America, including sassafras which covers the eastern United States and extends into Canada. Currently, only cold temperatures limit the beetles’ establishment and spread to sassafras trees outside the Southeast. For a study published in Biological Invasions, Center research ecologist Frank Koch and partners determined the coldest temperatures the beetles can tolerate and predicted where the beetles could move and survive now and in the future with warming winters. Based on a combination of laboratory and field tests of adult beetles and climate data, results suggest that nearly all sassafras populations are at risk of invasion. “Our models show that redbay ambrosia beetles could become established now in more than 99 percent of present sassafras populations. Just over half of present populations are located in areas where winters are typically cold enough to cause at least some beetle mortality,” says Koch. “In a future with higher winter minimum temperatures, more than 90 percent of the land area with sassafras populations would not experience winter temperatures low enough to kill redbay ambrosia beetles.” Results from this study highlight the need for continued monitoring in anticipation of more widespread laurel wilt mortality in a changing climate. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Maps show the range of sassafras and the invasion potential of redbay ambrosia beetles under current climate (top) and future climate (bottom). Most sassafras will be at risk as beetles spread north and survive through warmer winters. Click to enlarge.


Tree Range Shifts Among Discover Magazine's Top 100 Stories of 2017

Discover_JanFeb2018.jpgEach year, a special issue of Discover magazine highlights the top 100 science stories of the previous year. Ranked number 59 on the most recent list is a story based on research coauthored by Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist cooperating with the Eastern Threat Center. Potter and colleagues from Purdue University and the Southern Research Station analyzed extensive data on 86 tree species in the eastern United States and found that most trees have been shifting their ranges westward or northward in response to temperature and precipitation changes. (Their results were published in the May 2017 issue of Science Advances.) The top story on the Discover magazine list? The total solar eclipse that captured the nation's attention on August 21. Learn more about the study on tree range shifts, and check out Discover's Top 100 list in the January/February 2018 issue...


Do Roads Drive Forest Plant Invasions?

Road_and_farm_LKorhnak_InterfaceSouth.jpgRoads provide a means for moving people and products, but they can also allow hitchhiking organisms to spread. Some exotic invasive plants thrive on the disturbance created by road construction that displaces native plants. However, a new study led by Center research ecologist Kurt Riitters and published in Diversity and Distributions found that the presence of a road may be less important than the presence of farms and other human activities. “In the eastern U.S., a third of all forested areas are within 650 feet of a road, and invasive plants are found on half of the plots monitored by the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program,” says Riitters. “While there is little doubt that roads are linked to forest plant invasions at local scales, effective resource conservation at regional scales requires an understanding of other factors linked to both roads and invasions across the larger landscape.” Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Researchers found that land use within ‘road effect zones’ is an important predictor of forest plant invasions. Photo by Larry Korhnak, InterfaceSouth.


Tribes Share Traditional Knowledge to Inform Forest Management Planning

ramps_in_a_forest_research_plot.jpgCenter research biologist Michelle Baumflek combines social, environmental, and biological sciences to address complex management questions. Her work with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is one such example: she studies ramp (wild onion) populations, experimentally comparing traditional harvest techniques to conventional and commercial practices. “We want to bring together indigenous knowledge and scientific evidence to better inform conservation on a landscape level,” she explains in an article published in the Carolina Public Press. Information on the sustainable management of ramps could be incorporated into the revised management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, a draft of which should be released in 2018. Eleven federally recognized tribes, including the EBCI, are participating in the development of the new management plan by contributing their perspectives on access to forest resources and sustainability of culturally important species. Read more in the Carolina Public Press article…

Pictured: A research plot of ramps provides information on the sustainability of the plants following harvest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.


Station Director Honors Three Center Staff Members

Bill_Hargrove_Danny_Lee_Erika_Mack.jpgSouthern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick has announced the recipients of the 2017 Station Director’s Awards. Among the eight awardees are three Center staff members. Research ecologist Bill Hargrove has been named the Station’s Distinguished Scientist “for sustained, high-quality, creative scientific contributions in support of research including leadership in ForWarn, ForeCASTS, and LanDAT projects.” Center Director Danny Lee is the recipient of the Science Delivery Award “in recognition of excellence in integrating advanced technologies, tools, and scientific understanding into Forest Service management.” Resource information specialist Erika Mack is the winner of the Research Professional Support Award “in recognition of innovations and increased efficiency and usages of modeling tools while reducing development costs.” Doudrick will hand out the awards in March 2018 at the Station’s spring Management Council meeting. “The work they have accomplished makes me very proud and I look forward to recognizing those who can attend the awards ceremony in person,” says Doudrick. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: (Left to right) Bill Hargrove, Danny Lee, and Erika Mack are recipients of 2017 Southern Research Station Director's Awards.


Underground Forces Could Explain Forests’ Vulnerability to Plant Invasions

Mycorrhizal_fungi_Indiana_University_photo.jpgBelow the surface of the forest floor, tiny fungi in the soil are feeding on sugars in tree roots while also providing an important ecosystem service: helping trees absorb soil nutrients necessary for growth and survival. Researchers have found that certain types of these mycorrhizal fungi, as they are known, may also determine the forest’s risk of being invaded by nonnative plants. “We discovered that forests dominated by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are more vulnerable to nonnative plant invasions. In these forests, AM fungi consume and recycle soil nutrients more rapidly compared to forests dominated by ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi,” says Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist cooperating with the Eastern Threat Center and a coauthor of the study. The greater nutrition available to trees in AM fungi-dominated forests allows both native and nonnative plants to thrive, but nonnative invasive plants’ growth rate can be 12 times that of native plants in these forests. Managers can use this information to monitor and target efforts to control invasive plants. “Where eastern U.S. forests are shifting from ECM-dominated oak-hickory forests to AM-dominated maple forests, managers should be on the lookout for more exotic plant invasions,” says Potter. Findings, published in Ecology Letters, are based on data from the Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program. Read more in a news release from the Northern Research Station…

Pictured: Mycorrhizal fungi (pictured in white and yellow) have a working relationship with tree roots. Photo by Indiana Unviersity.


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