Scull Shoals Experimental Forest

Out of the ruins of a mill town

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group
Ruined building at Scull Shoals on the Oconee National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Ruined building at Scull Shoals on the Oconee National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

 

The 4,500-acre Scull Shoals Experimental Forest (Scull Shoals) near Athens, Georgia, has served as the site of silvicultural research studies since the 1930s. In 1959, when the experimental forest was officially designated part of the Oconee National Forest, researchers started studies on the role of fire in silviculture, the development of wildlife habitat, and the regeneration of the hardwood ecosystems of the southern Piedmont.

The site also features the ruins of Scull Shoals, once a major textile and mill town between Atlanta and Savannah. Settled in 1784 on the Oconee River, at its height Scull Shoals included grist mills, sawmills, cotton gins, and a four-story textile mill that employed over 600 people. The textile mill was destroyed in 1887 by a flood that covered the entire town for four days and left it in economic ruin. What remained of the town became part of Scull Shoals Experimental Forest in 1936, and is now an historic recreation area on the Oconee National Forest. 

Research at Scull Shoals during the 1960s and 1970s provided a better understanding of littleleaf disease, which is caused by a complex of factors including the fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi, low soil nitrogen, and poor internal soil drainage. Littleleaf disease affects the shortleaf pines growing on the badly eroded land that once typified the southern Piedmont.

The feasibility of establishing intensively managed, short-rotation woody crop systems to produce fiber was also demonstrated by research at Scull Shoals in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The types of systems developed there are now used in locations across the United States to produce biofuels for local energy use.

Read more about the town site, trails, and archaeological studies at Scull Shoals.

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Posted in Biomass and Bioenergy, Experimental Forests, Fire, Insects and Diseases, Southern Pines

Environmental Education on the National Forest in Georgia

by Viniece Jennings, SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit
Students get ready to go fishing during the day at Dyar Pasture. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Students get ready to go fishing during the day at Dyar Pasture. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

In 2010, the Obama Administration launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to conserve public lands and promote outdoor recreation. It also encourages community-based recreation programs to engage people where they live, learn, and play. Along similar lines, the U.S. Forest Service has a Kids in the Woods program to support youth nature programs.

Recently the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station (SRS), Oconee Ranger District and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA-DNR) partnered to host students at Dyar Pasture; a recreational area on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

Students from the nearby Union Point STEAM (STEM plus the arts) Academy and Elementary School, the first rural K-8 STEAM School in Georgia, participated in the field trip. Students rotated to different stations where they watched birds, examined water quality, fished, and sketched nature scenes during an outdoor art activity.

District wildlife biologist Elizabeth Caldwell helped organize the trip and spoke to students on the history of Dyar Pasture along with the effects of grazing cattle on the local ecosystem.

SRS technology transfer specialist Eric Kuehler discussed the importance of water quality and showed students how to identify macroinvertabrates in a site water sample, while SRS forestry technician Chris Crowe helped students explore a popular outdoor activity – fishing! He also explained how invasive fish affect the ecosystem.

GA-DNR’s Linda May took the students bird watching and showed them how to measure wingspan to compare different species of migratory birds. For example, the aspect ratio is the fraction of a bird’s wing length to its width. According to the GA-DNR, one wing of the wandering albatross is 72 inches and has a width of 10.5 inches, allowing it to make its long trip across the Gulf coast. 

Other students experiment with sketching outdoors. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Other students experiment with sketching outdoors. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

“Students were relieved to get outdoors and decompress after intense exams. They enjoyed another great field trip with the Forest Service,” shared Viniece Jennings, research scientist with the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit in Athens, Georgia, who coordinated the trip and presented at the art station.

“This was the first time that many of the students visited Dyar Pasture. It was a delight to see an excited student who had never gone fishing catch a fish during this trip. We are proud that the national forest will be part of their memories of the Great Outdoors.”

For more information, email Viniece Jennings at vjennings02@fs.fed.us.

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Posted in Recreation, Urban Forests

In a Paradox, Good News for City Frogs

Urban living may mean less exposure to deadly fungus

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group
Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) calling. Photo by Taylor Hall.

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) calling. Photo by Taylor Hall.

In a world rapidly losing its species diversity, amphibians have the highest rate of extinction among vertebrates. Although the usual culprits of habitat loss and human incursion play a major role, a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that causes an often fatal skin disease in amphibians has played a major role in the decline or extinction of about 200 frog species in less than a decade.  

A new study by a U.S. Forest Service scientist and collaborators shows that degraded urban areas may actually serve as refuges for some species of frogs from the deadly fungus.

Dan Saenz, research wildlife biologist with the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), compared occurrence rates of Bd in spring peepers collected from forested and urban breeding sites near Nacogdoches in eastern Texas. While other studies have compared Bd rates in frogs collected from forested and deforested areas, this is the first to make the comparison using urban sites such as drainage ditches and flooded soccer fields.

The results of the study are dramatic. The frogs collected from forested habitats showed almost three times the incidence of Bd than those from urban sites.

“We chose spring peepers as our subjects because they’re known to occur in both urban and forested wetlands and they actively breed in the cooler months when the prevalence of Bd should be highest,” says Saenz. “They’re also known to have a relatively high incidence of Bd in our study area.”  

One of the urban sites where researchers collected frogs for the study. Photo by Dan Saenz.

One of the urban sites where researchers collected frogs for the study. Photo by Dan Saenz.

The researchers collected individual peepers in one visit to each of 14 different sites by listening for their distinctive calls and capturing individuals by hand. They swabbed each individual using sterile techniques, returning each frog to the capture site immediately.

“We think we captured over 95 percent of the frogs we heard calling in both habitat types,” says Saenz. “We collected 41 spring peepers from the six urban wetlands and 89 individuals from eight sites in forested habitats on two different national forests. These numbers suggest higher densities of spring peepers in forested habitats than in urban, which may be a factor in higher rates of Bd.”

Of the individuals collected in the city, 19.5 percent tested positive for Bd, while 62.9 percent of those collected in the forest tested positive. The results are similar to those of studies comparing forested and deforested sites but with more dramatic differences.

“The greater than three-fold difference we found between urban and forested sites suggests to us that something in the urban environment may augment the previously established effects of deforestation on Bd infectiousness,” says Saenz.

Previous studies concluded that cooler temperatures and wetter areas promote Bd infectiousness; lack of vegetation cover in deforested and urban areas results in higher temperatures that restrict Bd. It’s also been suggested that certain pollutants might actually have negative effects on the Bd fungus, but more research is needed in this area before any conclusions can be made.

Still, the results reveal a paradox, life protected by habitat degradation.

“Urbanization produces some of the greatest extinction rates and has already eliminated large numbers of native species,” says Saenz. “Our study adds to the paradox that disturbed habitats, including urban areas, may be acting as refuges from diseases such as Bd for species able to tolerate them.”

Read the full text of the article.

For more information, email Dan Saenz at dsaenz@fs.fed.us.

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Posted in Fish & Wildlife, Forest Watersheds, Urban Forests