Research Program
Dr. Scot Duncan
Birmingham-Southern College
 

Here you will find summaries of my main research projects. If you are interested in learning more about them, or are interested in participating, please don't hesitate to contact me.

  General Research Orientation:

We are in an era where native plant and animal communities are disappearing all around us. As a result, there is a great need for understanding how these communities function so we can sustain and/or restore such communities. I investigate ecological processes within endangered ecosystems in order to provide managers with the information they need to help these ecosystems survive.

 

Mountain Longleaf Pine Ecosystems at Oak Mountain State Park:

Longleaf pine forests occur on the ridges and foothills within Oak Mountain State Park. These forests are remnants of a formerly vast expanse of longleaf pine forest that stretched across the southeastern United States. Once covering 60-90 million acres in the south (by comparison, Alabama is 33.5 million acres), longleaf forests are now reduced to roughly 3 million acres. The southeastern longleaf pine forests are the most species diverse forests in North America, harboring scores of plant and animal species not found elsewhere. Longleaf pine forests need periodic low-intensity fires to survive. The plants and animals that live in these forests have adaptations to survive these fires. Without fire, longleaf pine forests are supplanted by different forest types, and the flora and fauna associated with longleaf community cannot survive. Oak Mountain State Park harbors hundreds of acres of mountain longleaf pine forest. Most stands of longleaf in the park have not had a fire in 30+ years. Fortunately, Alabama State Parks is committed to using prescribed fire to manage these forests in order to maintain and restore the longleaf communities in the park.

I have several research projects to aid longleaf pine forest conservation in the park. Many BSC undergraduate students have participated in this research. First, I have 26 long-term research plots (20x50 m) scattered throughout the park within which we are describing the variation among various longleaf pine stands in the park (e.g., ridge versus foothill stands). Second, we have long-term transects established within the longleaf pine stands in various management units within the park. With these transects we monitoring how the longleaf community is responding to various fire treatments (e.g., prescribed fires, wildfires, fire suppression). We will soon be networking with secondary teachers so that they and their classes can participate in the monitoring of these transects. Finally, we are assessing the status of the bird community typically associated with longleaf pine forests, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). These are all long-term projects to which other components will be added as resources become available.

 

Fire Ecology of the Bibb County Dolomite Glades

The recently discovered cedar glade habitats in Bibb County, AL, are the home to eight endangered plant species found nowhere else in the world. Many other rare and endangered plant species are also found in these open, treeless habitats. These small, isolated communities are the most botanically biodiverse location in Alabama, possibly even in the Southeastern U.S.. Many of the glades are now part of The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Kathy Stiles Freeland Bibb County Glades Preserve (click here for TNC's description and directions). TNC's management plans include using prescribed fire to promote recovery of the longleaf pine forests surrounding the glades. However, it is not known how fire will affect the glades when fires spread into them from the forest.

In spring 2003 I started an experiment to determine the effect of fire on these glade communities, with a focus on the rare and/or endangered plants. We have set up pairs of plots (each plot 2x8 m), and burned the glades vegetation within one plot of each plot pair. Plant community surveys were conducted before the burn (2003) and in the months following the burn (2004). Changes in the species composition and population size of the glades plants will be monitored in these plots for at least one more growing season. The information gathered will help TNC develop a fire management plan for the preserve to ensure the survival of the rare glades species.

For more information about the glades, visit the website of Jim Allison, the botanist who discovered the glades (http://www.mindspring.com/~jallison/lostworld.htm).
 

Geological Effects on the Distribution of Croomia pauciflora, a Rare Forest Herb

In this project I have teamed up with Dr. Larry Brasher (BSC) to study Croomia pauciflora, an extremely rare plant in the southeastern U.S. Croomia is endangered in Florida, threatened in Georgia, and has several confined populations within Alabama. Most local populations of Croomia are very small and only rarely produce flowers and fruits. Mysteriously, on the slopes of Red Mountain near Steele, AL, populations of Croomia thrive. These patches are numerous, are vastly larger than those in other regions where Croomia is found, and regularly produce flowers and seeds. This population seems to have a close relationship with a particular type of rock found on the mountain slope, a calcareous sandstone. We are trying to determine what ecological parameters define and affect Croomia's distribution in this area. Our findings may help managers of Croomia Florida and Georgia better understand the ecological needs of their populations.

 

Seed Dispersal and Tropical Forest Restoration in Africa

For my dissertation (Ph.D. in Zoology, University of Florida) I studied forest regeneration in recently logged forests in Kibale National Park, Uganda. One set of questions investigated how animal-mediated seed dispersal from surrounding unlogged forest influenced plant recruitment in logged forests. A second set of questions addressed whether early-successional shrubs facilitated or inhibited tree seedling recruitment and growth. Other questions focused on how different logging strategies affected subsequent forest regrowth. These findings provided managers with useful information about how to promote forest restoration.

 

 

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