Photo of Kevin M. Potter

Kevin M. Potter

Research Cooperator
P.O. Box 12254
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2254
Phone: 919-549-4071

Current Research

Kevin M. Potter is a landscape ecologist and population geneticist who applies the disciplines of landscape ecology, conservation biology and population genetics to assess and mitigate threats to tree species and forest communities, particularly across broad scales.

He is a research associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University (NCSU), serving as a joint venture cooperator with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center of the USDA Forest Service.

His work includes conservation assessments of vulnerable tree species, rangewide genetic diversity studies of tree species at risk, and broad-scale studies of the ecosystem functions associated with biodiversity.

He also serves as lead editor of U.S. Forest Service annual reports on the health of the nation’s forests.

Research Interests

Kevin Potter's research leverages the disciplines of landscape ecology, conservation biology and population genetics to assess and mitigate threats to tree species and forest communities, particularly across broad scales. His research focuses on developing and applying innovative qualitative methods and models to address broad-scale, complex threats to forest health, with an emphasis on delivering tools that can enable better-informed management of forests and the tree species that constitute them.

Specifically, he has five central areas of research expertise. Click on each link for more information.

Completion of range-wide genetic variation studies of several at-risk forest tree species

Development of indicators of forest biodiversity and ecosystem function across broad regions using Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data and incorporating evolutionary relationships among species

Development of a framework to categorize and prioritize forest tree species for conservation and management actions based on life-history characteristics and external threats

Coordination of national USDA Forest Service annual forest health reports, and contribution of research chapters that employ a novel technique for analyzing large-scale geographical patterns of fine-scale forest health data

Investigating species invasion patterns and processes across broad spatial scales

Past Research

Previous to his current position, Kevin Potter was a postdoctoral fellow with the Camcore International Tree Conservation and Domestication program at NCSU, conducting population genetic analyses on imperiled eastern North American hemlock (Tsuga) species and Central American pines. He earned a Ph.D in forestry (2006) and M.S. in natural resources (2002) from NCSU. His doctoral work focused on the population genetics and gene conservation of Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), and his master’s work analyzed the impact of land cover changes on macrobenthic invertebrate communities in North Carolina streams.

Why This Research is Important

Forests cover a vast area of the United States, approximately one-third of the Nation’s land area. These forests possess the capacity to provide a broad range of goods and services to current and future generations, to safeguard biological diversity, and to contribute to the resilience of ecosystems, societies, and economies. Their ecological roles include supplying large and consistent quantities of clean water, preventing soil erosion, and providing habitat for a broad diversity of plant and animal species. Their socioeconomic benefits include wood products, nontimber goods, recreational opportunities, and pleasing natural beauty. Both the ecological integrity and the continued capacity of these forests to provide ecological and economic goods and services are at risk in the face of a long list of threats, including insect and disease infestation, fragmentation and forest conversion to other land uses, catastrophic fire, invasive species, and the effects of climate change.

To maintain the ecological integrity and socioeconomic importance of forests, we first need to better quantify their function and complexity, and second to understand their vulnerability to the threats they face. Taking a large-scale perspective is critical, both for assessing the relationship among biotic and abiotic factors driving forest threats, and for making management decisions.

This is among the objectives of the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) of the USDA Forest Service, which provides forest landowners, managers and scientists knowledge and tools to anticipate and respond to environmental threats to trees and forests. Each of Potter's research focus areas addresses one or more of the problem areas emphasized by EFETAC: (1) forest health monitoring research; (2) forest ecosystem responses to global change; (3) impacts of biotic invasion, other stresses, and their interactions; (4) integrated risk assessment; and (5) collaborative science delivery efforts.


Ph.D. Forestry in Forest Ecology and Genetics, 2006
North Carolina State University
M.S. Natural Resources in Natural Resource Management, 2002
North Carolina State University
B.A. Journalism and Mass Communication in News Reporting, 1993
Drake University

Awards and Recognition

United States Department of Agriculture Certificate of Appreciation, 2020
For “outstanding contributions to fulfilling the Forest Service mission of monitoring and reporting on the health of United States forests”
W.S. Cooper Award from the Ecological Society of America, 2019
For an outstanding publication in the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession, or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients, for the paper “Divergence of species responses to climate change” (Fei, S., J.M. Desprez, K.M.
United States Department of Agriculture Certificate of Appreciation, 2012
For “long-term, outstanding efforts in co-editing the Annual [USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Monitoring] National Technical Report”
Belle Baruch Foundation Award for best poster, 31st Southern Forest Tree Improvement Conference, 2011
For the poster “Potter, K.M., R.M. Jetton, W.S. Dvorak, V.D. Hipkins, J. Rhea, W.A. Whittier. 2011. “Range-Wide Assessment of Genetic Variation and Structure in Eastern Hemlock, an Imperiled Conifer, Using Microsatellites.”

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Assessing the Vulnerability of Tree Species to Insect and Disease Threats (2019)
SRS-2019-31 What are the most serious insect and disease threats to each of our native tree species? Which tree species are most vulnerable to insects and diseases? A team of researchers answered these questions in two papers published in the journals Global Ecology and Conservation and Forests.