Santee Experimental Forest Research Forum

aerial view of forest
The Santee Experimental Forest is the only is the only one that has a tidal footprint. Tidal freshwater hydrology is the focus of much new research on the Santee EF. Photo by Julie Arnold, USFS.

On April 1, 2021, scientists and experts from the South and across the globe gathered virtually to talk about research on the Santee Experimental Forest.

Santee EF is one of 84 sites in the USDA Forest Service Experimental Forest & Range Network. It was founded in 1937, one year after the Francis Marion National Forest was established. The forest is located north of Charleston, South Carolina.

“We have an international consortium working here on the Santee Experimental Forest,” says team leader and research soil scientist Carl Trettin. “Our staff group is small but mighty. We couldn’t do this work without our partnership with the Francis Marion National Forest.”

Fifteen presenters shared research updates. Much of the research on the Santee EF concerns water, but topics ranged from artificial intelligence to pollinators.

Michael Ulyshen is an SRS research entomologist who discussed a study that will show how forest composition affects pollinator communities. This study includes measurements on each of the 19 southern experimental forests.

“Experimental forests were historically focused on local and regional issues,” says Stephanie Laseter. Laseter is the SRS Experimental Forest Network co-coordinator with Johnny Boggs, and the SRS liaison with the Southern Region of the National Forest System.

“Over the past five years, we’ve connected these sites into a network with a larger scope,” says Laseter. “We’ve installed FIA plots, added NC State University’s Hill Demonstration Forest as a cooperating experimental forest, brought on three detailers, and purchased a mobile eddy flux tower to install at the Santee EF.”

an unmanned aerial system (drone) in the Santee Experimental Forest
Research partners of the Santee Experimental Forest can use unmanned aircraft systems, in accordance with procedures developed by Southern Region fire aviation staff and SRS. The first research flight was conducted by Norm Levine and colleagues at the College of Charleston. Image by Michael Wiser, licensed UAS pilot.

The eddy flux tower will be installed on Watershed 77, one of five gauged watersheds on the Santee EF. Intense research activity is focused on Watershed 77, or WS-77. Multiple studies are underway, all of them building upon three longleaf pine restoration treatments that represent those used on national forests. Harvesting treatments are being conducted under the agency’s Shared Stewardship program and will probably be completed by June 2021.

Longleaf pine restoration is a common management goal throughout the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain and Piedmont. However, very few sites offer the long-term data and instrumentation available at the Santee EF, and there’s very little information about how restoration affects carbon and water balances at the watershed scale.

Ge Sun discussed projections of how longleaf pine restoration would affect the water balance. Devendra Amatya also discussed water balance, as well as extreme precipitation and culvert capacity. The culvert study is one of the cross-site studies conducted on the Experimental Forest Network.

  • Alex Chow of Clemson University discussed prescribed fire and improved drinking water quality. Fire consumes tiny particles of decaying plant matter that can react with chlorine and other disinfectants used to treat drinking water.
  • Tim Callahan of the College of Charleston spoke about the college’s long-term collaboration with SRS and other partners on hydrology research, emphasizing surface and ground water transport.
  • Andrzej Walega of the University of Agriculture in Krakow, Poland discussed models of runoff from forested watersheds throughout the Southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain.
  • Five fish species were documented for the first time on the Santee EF by Troy Farmer of Clemson University and colleagues, who used historic fish records and spoke about freshwater fish communities of the Santee EF.
  • Craig Allan of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte spoke about carbon exchanges along a freshwater tidal riparian gradient.
  • Martin Tsui of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro discussed the methyl mercury cycle and will compare mercury levels in beetles, crayfish, fish, moths, leaf litter, and biofilms before and after the treatment on WS-77.
  • Artificial intelligence-based flood detection and monitoring systems are being developed, as Erfan Goharian of the University of South Carolina discussed.
  • Sushant Mehan of Ohio State University discussed a feasibility study on data-driven decision-making tools for assessing fire risk.
  • The role of microbes and termites in decomposing dead wood is being studied on multiple sites, including nine experimental forests. Andrew Burton of Michigan Technological University discussed this work, and Zhaohua Dai (also of Michigan Tech) discussed models of coarse woody debris decomposition.
research instruments in front of a pool of water
The Santee Experimental Forest provides a variety of research instruments, laboratory and analytical capacity, and hydrologic monitoring systems to support forest ecology, hydrology, soils, and wildlife research. USFS photo.

New upgrades on the Santee EF make the research possible. In 2020, a bi-directional gauging station was installed on Huger Creek. That same year, surface elevation tables – which allow researchers to measure sediments – were installed on numerous sites by Ken Krauss and his colleagues from the USGS National Wetlands Laboratory.

The Santee EF is the only experimental forest with a tidal footprint. Accordingly, new research is on tidal freshwater hydrology, and its interactions with vegetation, carbon cycling, greenhouse gases, and water quality. Understanding coastal processes within urbanizing landscapes that are threatened by climate change and development is important.

“We convened this forum so the investigators could hear from each other and hopefully inspire even more creativity and collaboration,” says Trettin. “There are many other collaborative projects underway, and despite the pandemic we’ve been able to sustain core activities including monitoring.”

Learn more about the Santee Experimental Forest.

For more information, email Carl Trettin at

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.


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