Connecting the Dots: Local and Landscape-Scale Consequences of Timber Extraction

EPA Grant Number: FP917444
Title: Connecting the Dots: Local and Landscape-Scale Consequences of Timber Extraction
Investigators: Connette, Grant M
Institution: University of Missouri - Columbia
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


The broad, study objective is to determine how natural resource extraction and the dynamics of local wildlife populations explain landscapescale patterns of species abundance and genetic diversity. Specifically, the research goals will be to: (1) establish the relationship between terrestrial salamander abundance and timber stand age; (2) examine how patterns of stand rotation correlate with observed genetic diversity across a landscape; and (3) use this knowledge to predict the long-term effects of forest management decisions on the landscape-wide abundance and genetic


The research will focus on a historically managed landscape in the Nantahala Mountains of southwest North Carolina. By performing repeated counts of terrestrial salamanders from timber stands across a broad spectrum of age classes, the amount of time required for populations to recover following timber harvest will be estimated as well as the dependence of this recovery process on the immigration of animals from surrounding timber stands. DNA samples also will be collected from salamanders and genetic diversity quantified in the laboratory of each timber stand. The relationship between genetic diversity and stand age will then be used to estimate the timeframe for recovery of genetic diversity following timber harvesting. Computer modeling will then allow for the assessment of the potential effects of forest management strategies on animal populations and the development of recommendations for sustainable harvesting practices.

Expected Results:

Because salamanders appear to experience large population declines following timber harvesting, it is expected to find greatly reduced salamander abundance in the youngest timber stands but a gradual recovery with increasing stand age. The recovery of genetic diversity following local population bottlenecks also may persist for many years after harvesting. If genetic diversity is recovered at a slower rate than species abundance, using model projections to optimize the size and placement of undisturbed habitat patches may ensure that pockets of high genetic diversity are available to prevent widespread “genetic erosion” across the landscape.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Maintaining genetic diversity is critical for preserving the adaptive potential of species and environmental management that focuses solely on species abundance may overlook the problem of “genetic erosion.” The maintenance of species abundance and genetic diversity is of particular interest when management focuses on plant or animal species of economic interest. Whether for preserving wildlife or maintaining sustainable fisheries and timber yields, it is critical that the timing and pattern of resource extraction provide the best possibility of long-term sustainability.

Supplemental Keywords:

timber harvest, amphibians, genetic diversity

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final