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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 08 

Preserving natural areas on campuses focus of Ecological Society of America sessions

August 10, 2015

Carola Haas in Stadium Woods.
Carola Haas

As universities grow, there may be a desire to preserve natural areas on campuses for research, teaching, and outreach. A Virginia Tech professor has organized three sessions at this week's Ecological Society of America centennial meeting in Baltimore on preserving campus areas that have special ecological significance.

Carola Haas, professor of wildlife ecology in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, will talk about her experiences related to Stadium Woods, 11 acres at the edge of the Virginia Tech campus, where she and other faculty have held classes and workshops.

“At the 2012 meeting of the MidAtlantic Section of the Ecological Society of America, which was hosted at Virginia Tech, we led some tours of Stadium Woods, and many attendees talked about how they had struggled on their campuses to prevent development in natural areas important to research and teaching,” said Haas. “The national Centennial meeting seemed like the perfect venue to share strategies and success stories, as some of the founders of the Ecological Society of America were very involved in early protection of natural areas that allowed them and their students to conduct long-term studies that helped the discipline of ecology develop.” 

Haas worked with Marla McIntosh of the University of Maryland and Kevina Vulinec of Delaware State University to plan the sessions, which grew from one to three due to popular demand.

During the first program, at 10 a.m. Aug. 13, a series of five-minute presentations highlighting success stories and challenges, Haas will talk about how “football fans, foresters, students, and tree-huggers saved an old-growth forest.” 

There will also be presenters from the University of Central Florida, the University of Maryland, and Clemson on the topic of conserving wild spaces on campus. Other presentations, including by the University of California at Irvine and the University of Wisconsin, will address campus planning and the use of natural spaces. Susan Day, Virginia Tech associate professor of forest resources and environmental conservation, is program moderator.

Development of a “best practices” document is the goal of the workshop at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 13, Protecting Campus Natural Areas From Development: Creating a Legacy into the Next Century. Robert H. Jones, provost at Clemson University, and Teferi Tsegaye, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems at Kentucky State University, will talk about strategies likely to be successful in convincing university administrators and boards to preserve natural areas, and others will share success stories.

At 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 13, additional presentations on the teaching and research values of campus natural areas will take the form of posters during a session on College Campus Natural Areas as Living Laboratories for Teaching and Research

“The presenters will provide historical context and discuss current challenges and opportunities,” said Haas. “This session is intended to create widespread interest in campus natural areas as integral components of higher education.”

“The true value and the potential contributions of local natural areas to a university’s mission and strategic goals are often neglected despite opportunities to involve students in management, restoration, monitoring, and interpreting habitats that would contribute greatly to teaching and research in ecology,” said Haas.

Haas conducts research on another old-growth system, the longleaf pine flatwoods at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle.  Two members of her research group are also involved in presentations at the meeting.  

Houston Chandler, research technician in fish and wildlife conservation, will present a paper on the influence of wetland characteristics and spatial configuration on occupancy of larval Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi); Tom Gorman, research scientist in fish and wildlife conservation, is a coauthor on another paper about flatwoods salamanders: Meeting data needs to inform recovery, conservation and management of imperiled flatwoods salamanders.

Haas studies breeding and movement behavior of amphibians, reptiles, and birds, with a particular focus on wildlife populations in landscapes that are managed for human uses.  She has conducted long-term research on salamander response to different timber harvest practices in eastern oak forests. 

Many Virginia Tech faculty members and students from the College of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Science, and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are participants at the conference, including:

  • Susan Day is presenting two posters at ESA, one that will engage urban ecologists in Urban Forestry 2020, an initiative to strategically analyze urban forestry as a profession, and a second poster on urban soil carbon stocks. A Framework for Soil Carbon Management in Cities — Linking Urban Land Management to Carbon Stocks and Fluxes, presented with co-authors from the FAO in Rome and the USDA Forest Service, offers an approach for looking at the effects of urbanization on soil carbon stocks at multiple scales.
  • Kevin Horn, postdoctoral associate in forest resources and environmental conservation, who will lead a session on “Species specific asynchronies in the response of tree growth and mortality to N deposition at the continental scale;”
  • Quinn Thomas, assistant professor of forest resources and environmental conservation, on “Using conceptual theory and observations to evaluate mechanisms of N limitation in Earth system models;”
  • Forestry master’s student Ben Ahlswede of Newport, Virginia, who will lead a session on “What to plant and where to plant it: Modeling the biophysical effects of forests on climate using the Community Earth System Model.”

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