The Plant Ecology lab focuses on understanding and preserving the tremendous amount of biodiversity present in the ground cover of the longleaf pine ecosystem.
The Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States has been recognized as a biodiversity hotspot. Biodiversity hotspots are defined as areas with globally unique plant communities (i.e., they have at least 1,500 species that are found nowhere else on Earth) that are threatened by habitat loss. The Plant Ecology lab has established a number of long-term research projects to better understand these diverse plant community assemblages and their response to disturbances such as fire (or lack thereof), logging activity, and climate change.
The information obtained from our long-term research projects helps us to set goals for ground cover restoration projects. Over the years, the Plant Ecology has partnered with seed producers to help get Coastal Plain sources of native species into the commercial seed market. We have also helped produce guidelines to delineate seed transfer zones – the distance seeds can be moved from a source population and still be ecologically appropriate at a restoration site.
In addition to understanding and restoring native ground cover, the Plant Ecology lab also helps to preserve some of the rarest species of the Coastal Plain flora. Ichauway is home to at least 35 plant species that are recognized as vulnerable, imperiled, or critically imperiled in the state of Georgia, including two that are listed as federally endangered. We work to map and monitor these populations and protect them through the responsible collection of seeds that are stored in a seed bank. The seed bank provides long-term insurance against population declines; in the event of such a decline, seed can be taken out of the seed bank and propagated for eventual restoration or recovery projects.
The Plant Ecology Lab, in collaboration with the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, received a grant from the Georgia Botanical Society to examine the genetics of one of our federally endangered plants,