Coffee Hour: Ecological Resilience of Appalachian Forests

Friday, October 26, 2012 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Refreshments are offered at 3:30 p.m. in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building. The lecture begins at 4:00 p.m. in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building.

Ecological Resilience of Appalachian Forests

The Appalachian Mountains are home to remarkable biodiversity compared to other temperate climates, a diversity which is the net result of evolutionary and migratory adaptation over geologic time. Paleoecological, contemporary ecological, and biogeographical investigations have contributed considerably to our understanding of ecological adaptation to climate change. Some of these investigations have pointed to intrinsic characteristics of Appalachian geography which helped species adapt to change over geologic time scales.


In this presentation I will review evidence for Appalachian resilience and add my own research findings —the role of topography in supporting ecological adaptation, a network analysis to identify critical habitat pathways for plant migration based on geographic factors supporting dispersal, establishment, and regeneration, and the relative importance of fire and climate change in vegetation shifts and carbon storage.


The predicted degree of temperature and precipitation in this region will have very noticeable effects on forest composition and ecosystem processes. Given this predicted climate change, I will evaluate the resilience of Appalachian forests at a variety of spatial and temporal scales and from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. Rather than focusing on magnitudes and rates of climate change, I have chosen to focus instead on ecosystem patterns the support climate change adaptation in general. This approach finds, in this region at least, some reason for hope.


Elizabeth CrisfieldElizabeth Crisfield is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography, advised by Erica Smithwick. After earning a bachelors degree in physics and a masters degree in agronomy, Crisfield worked for Everglades National Park in Florida and as a hydrologist and water rights negotiator in Washington, DC. A long-time love of Appalachian forests was fostered by camping trips from childhood through college; the motivation for the research she will share was drawn from her work with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and her passion for natural resource stewardship.