UTIA Family, please refer to utk.edu/coronavirus for the latest updates and student information. For UTIA-specific resources, including event information and county office status, please visit utia.tennessee.edu/coronavirus .

Research

Our faculty and researchers are tackling diverse issues, from evaluating zoonotic disease crossovers, restoring endangered species populations, creating cost assessments for biomass, and much more.

Read about our current research projects below.

Fisheries

J. Brian Alford (PI), Debra L. Miller (Co-PI), and Meredith Hayes (Investigator), Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (Collaborator)

At Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI) Smoky Madtoms (Noturus baileyi) and Yellowfin Madtoms (N. flavipinnus) are being propagated to restore populations of these endangered species to the wild. However, other rare Noturus species tend to have poor nest/larval survival due, hypothetically, due to guardian males and their protective antimicrobial mucus being absent in the hatchery once nests are brought in from the wild. We are using the common Mountain Madtom (N. eleutherus) as a model by spawning wild-caught adults and experimentally removing guardian males from nests. Our objectives are to (1) quantify egg infection rates by a fungal pathogen and survivorship of nests with guardian male present versus nests with guardian male absent and (2) demonstrate inhibitory effects of epidermal mucus through microbial assays.

J. Brian Alford (PI)

This project will survey aquatic invertebrate assemblages and their habitats in 4 streams located in the South Central Plains Level III ecoregion of Louisiana, and draining the Ouachita River basin. At least 29 species of special concern in Louisiana will be sampled for invertebrates, including rare crayfish, mussels, and insects, as well as their instream habitat and riparian habitat. Data from these collections will be used to develop a reference condition (i.e., baseline set of community attributes) that can then be used to generate and validate an index of biotic integrity (IBI) for this ecoregion. Most states have developed region-specific IBIs to assess environmental quality of aquatic ecosystems. However, this work has not been done in Louisiana. One of the first and most important steps towards developing an IBI using natural aquatic community data is to define the reference condition. This study will enable the State of Louisiana to begin this process of biologically-based water quality assessment, one that is much more easily implemented and cost-effective than using traditional numeric concentrations (e.g., TMDLs).

J. Brian Alford (PI)

Since 2001, the UT Fisheries Research Lab has been monitoring and restoring native aquatic biota to the NC and TN portions of the Pigeon River following many decades of paper mill pollution. This work continues the goal of recovering the native aquatic fauna in the river to its natural state. We conduct snorkel monitoring for reintroduced fishes (e.g., Gilt Darter) and mussels (e.g., Purple Wartyback) and conduct electrofishing surveys on an annual basis to assess the recovery. Twice per year we translocate fishes from nearby watersheds (but part of the same drainage, French Broad River) to help those species recolonize the Pigeon.

Forestry

Neelam C. Poudyal, Buddhi Gywali, Maifan Silitonga, Marion Simon, Louie Rivers

Landscape change due to excessive mining can change the provision of forest and other ecosystem, which may eventually threaten the quality of life in nearby communities. One of the regions experiencing significant landscape change due to mountain top removal for mining is the Appalachian Mountain region of east Kentucky. In collaboration with the PIs from Kentucky State University, this projects intends to study whether and how landscape changes due to surface mining relate to residents’ perception of change in social, economic, and ecological indicators of human quality of life. A paper-based survey has been designed and recently implemented in seven surface-mining counties located in eastern Kentucky.

Neelam C. Poudyal, Burton English, Kim Jensen

Landscape change due to excessive mining can change the provision of forest and other ecosystems, which may eventually threaten the quality of life in nearby communities. One of the regions experiencing significant landscape change due to mountaintop removal for mining is the Appalachian Mountain region of eastern Kentucky. In collaboration with the PIs from Kentucky State University, this project intends to study whether and how landscape changes due to surface mining relate to residents’ perception of change in social, economic, and ecological indicators of human quality of life. A paper-based survey has been designed and recently implemented in seven surface-mining counties located in eastern Kentucky.

Neelam C. Poudyal, J. M. Bowker, D. B. K. English, Ashley Askew, Binod Chapagain

As many outdoor recreation activities rely on natural resources such as forests, streams, and snow, climate can have direct and indirect impacts on the outdoor industry. The objective is to develop and test models with selected outdoor activities so that the approach could eventually be replicated to other specific activities. Findings from this study will provide useful insights in the feasibility of using destination-specific data as opposed to origin-specific data in linking recreation participation and climate change. Using recreation survey data from USDA Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring, a number of trip demand models have been developed to assess the economic value of downhill skiing, and evaluate whether and how climatic conditions on site (e.g., temperature, snow depth, precipitation) impact trip demand.

Susan Schexnayder, Mark Fly

The USDA Forest Service monitors recreational intensity and preference across all its forests using a nationwide program of visitor monitoring and surveying. The Human Dimensions Lab works with national forests throughout the southeastern United States to collect data on usage, satisfaction and economic impacts of recreational use of our national forests.

Neelam C. Poudyal and Donald G. Hodges (UTK-FWF), Brett Butler (USDA-NRS)

Studies on family forest landownership have shown that forest ownership motives and objectives vary substantially across the country. There is a legitimate reason to believe that the spatial variation may be related to underlying similarities and differences in biophysical, social, and economic factors that landowners face. The overall objective of this project is to combine cutting-edge spatial modeling techniques with national woodland owners survey data to understand the spatial patterns of landownership dynamics and improve existing models of landowner behavior. Visualization of similarities and differences in ownership characteristics will help us reveal the spatial variation in ownership pattern. Understanding the local relationship between sociodemographic, market forces, demographic changes, and education and outreach programs with the forest management decisions will help us in predicting the relative impacts of land use policies, outreach and extension programs, and more importantly in improving the existing models of landowner decision making with spatially explicit variables.  

Neelam C. Poudyal and John Zobel (UTK-FWF), Cassandra J. Gaither (USDA-SRS)

Previous research on heirs’ property has concluded that the legal structure of such ownership puts property owners at a disadvantage when it comes to actively managing natural resources on their land. Guiding public policy on heirs’ property landownership will require understanding whether and to what extent the forest resource base under this segment of ownership is changing, and what social, economic, political, and biophysical factors related to the property itself, ownership structure, and other political and market forces are contributing to the change. This ongoing project characterizes the temporal change in extent, structure, and type of forest resources in heirs’ property parcels in select study areas in the southeastern United States.

Scott Schlarbaum, Stacy Clark (USDA FS)

The Forest Service and the Cooperator are mutually interested in improving forest management of upland hardwood ecosystems in the southeastern United States. The Forest Service’s interest in this project is to conduct research on the response of oak and American chestnut artificial regeneration to genetics, forest management, and natural ecological processes and to better understand natural stand dynamics in upland hardwood ecosystems in the southeastern United States. The University’s interest in this agreement is to gain knowledge on management technologies needed to improve forest health and sustainability, and to provide learning opportunities and professional work experience for our department’s students and recent graduates.

Urban Forestry

Sharon Jean-Philippe, Andrew Pulte

The development of this summer internship has been a collaborative effort between the Tennessee Division of Forestry and the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee to assist the state’s Champion Tree Program in their biennial update. The project’s main objectives were to re-inventory current champion trees across West, Middle, and East Tennessee and update the current Access database.

Wildlife

Amanda Kaeser, Nidia Panti, Rafael Manzanero, Friends for Conservation and Development Belize, Program for Tropical Ecology and Conservation

In this project, surveys and social psychology models are used to predict women’s participation in natural resources management in The Vaca Forest Reserve. The results are being applied to develop and implement a new conservation program through a women’s group. The research has produced one PhD dissertation, one peer-reviewed manuscript in press, and three other manuscripts either in review or development.

Marcy Souza, Rick Gerhold, Chika Okafor, Robert Omara, Charles Masembe, Bree Dell, Kathrine McCarty

This project measures perceived and actual risk of zoonotic disease crossovers from wildlife to people in communities adjacent Murchison Falls Naitonal Park.  Reserach collaborators have completed 180 hunter surveys and collected 90 bushmeat samples for DNA and RNA sequencing.

Patrick Keyser, David Buehler, Emma Willcox, D. Simon (NCWRC)

This project is evaluating changes in breeding bird nesting ecology (survival, productivity, habitat selection) as a result of oak woodland and savannah restoration. Focal species for the nesting component are prairie warbler, red-headed woodpecker, field sparrow, and red-eyed vireo. The project also has a long-term (7 years) data set that is being analyzed to identify changes in breeding bird density for a large number of species based on the same canopy reduction and fire treatments. Chrissy Henderson is an MS student and is conducting the research.

Patrick Keyser, Charles Kwit, M. Stambaugh (University of Missouri)

This is the companion study to the breeding bird component and evaluates changes in vegetation communities including overstory, midstory, and groundlayer components resulting from three canopy reduction treatments (uncut control, high and low residual) and three fire treatments (spring, fall, unburned control). We are also evaluating changes in fuel loading, both amount and type. Andy Vander Yacht is a PhD student and is conducting this work. Partners include NWTF, USFS-LBL, USFS-DBNF, NCWRC, TWRA, U. Missouri, BLM, and UT.

Adam Willcox, Teresa Payne, Kyle Rodgers, Katherine Medlock, Rob Bullard

This research facilitates a process to collaboratively develop a plan to balance endangered species conservation with economic development.

Emma V. Willcox, Riley Bernard

Developing an Indiana bat Species Action Plan that will aid managers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) in protecting Indiana bats, while still completing necessary management, maintenance, and recreational activities in Indiana bat habitat.  Specifically,  the project will involve 1) compiling, synthesizing, reviewing, and summarizing all existing information on the status of Indiana bats and their habitat; 2) describing GRSM management activities (e.g., the prescribed fire, trail and road maintenance, etc.) that negatively affect and benefit Indiana bats; 3) identifying actions that are and are not allowed in Indiana bat habitat and/or mitigation measures needed to support species conservation; and 4) suggesting future research needs.

Tom Gill (PI), Shigetoshi Eda (Mentor)

Eda’s lab hosted a scientist from Kazakhstan for three months. The scientist conducted research projects on Johne’s disease diagnosis. Eda visited universities and a national diagnostic lab in Kazakhstan.

Emma V. Willcox and David A. Buehler

Using a newly developed aerial acoustic bat detection technology to improve detection and monitoring of multiple bat species, many of which have declining populations on DoD installations.

Lisa Muller, Joe Clark, National Park Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Elk Island National Park (EINP), Alberta, Canada has been managing over-abundant elk populations by translocating animals to sites including the Cumberland Mountains, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. The initial reintroductions occurred in 2000 and we are analyzing current genetic diversity of the populations.  There may be segregation of elk in Tennessee and North Carolina related to the social structure and separation of groups that originally occurred at EINP.

PIs: Matthew Gray and Debra Miller; Collaborators: Tom Remaley and Paul Super (NPS)

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) encompasses 210,877 hectares and is a global hotspot for vertebrate biodiversity in the Western Hemisphere. Wetlands within Cades Cove of the GSMNP have experienced reoccurring disease outbreaks from the emerging pathogen, ranavirus.  Our objectives are to: 1) identify the factors responsible for ranavirus emergence, 2) quantify the effects of ranavirus outbreaks on the amphibian community, and 3) quantify the translocation risk of ranavirus from Cades Cove to other GSMNP sites. We are accomplishing these objectives through a combination of mark-recapture sampling, pathogen surveillance, and estimating public visitation at sampling sites.

Patrick Keyser, D. Hancock (University of GA), L. Marks (Auburn University)

Native grasses are a valuable forage, but establishment can be difficult and, as a result, some producers are reluctant to incorporate these grasses into their pastures. This project is taking two practices for establishment, traditional spring planting and dormant-season planting, and implementing them on a series of nine demonstration farms in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. In addition, a third approach to establishment, using a warm-season annual (browntop millet) nurse crop, is being evaluated in a pair of experiments (switchgrass and big bluestem). The goal is to provide a forage crop during the establishment year without compromising stand establishment. Johnny Richwine, a PhD student, is conducting the experiments.

Emma Willcox, Riley Bernard, William Stiver, Mallory Tate

Exploring when and how imperiled Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) use cave hibernacula and surrounding forested landscapes during fall swarming and spring staging to allow the development of habitat management and species conservation strategies.

Deb Miller (PI), Matt Gray (Co-PI), Bill Sutton (Collaborator from Tennessee State University), Becky Hardman (PhD Graduate Student)

The Ozark Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in October of 2011 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Previous research suggests that pathogens may be negatively impacting populations by contributing to severe debilitating and progressive skin (digits and feet) lesions and mortality.  To date, the pathogens identified as having the most severe impact on amphibian populations worldwide are the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and viruses within the genus Ranavirus, both of which have been detected in Hellbenders and are known threats to other giant salamanders.  Beyond these primary pathogens, opportunistic bacteria are hypothesized to contribute to the digit and foot lesions once host immune systems are weakened by other stressors.  Amphibian skin health is known to be important in defense against pathogens; stressors that change the physiology of the host and ultimately ecosystem of the skin surface can lower host immune response and increase susceptibility to disease. Our study is focused on determining the prevalence of the pathogenic agents Bd and ranaviruses, identifying changes in the skin microbiome among Hellbenders with and without skin lesions, and ultimately identifying factors that contribute to these debilitating skin lesions. For this study, we use non-lethal techniques to collect samples for molecular analysis of cutaneous microbial, fungal, and viral communities.  To date we have collected samples from 87 Ozark Hellbenders and are currently working on analyses.

Shigetoshi Eda (PI)

Eda’s lab is preparing and providing antigens and absorbents to the BioVet diagnostic company for their production and sales of commercial diagnostic kits for Johne’s disease. The amount is enough to produce 1,000 kits, and this contract can be expanded to up to ten times of the service.

PIs: Matthew Gray and Debra Miller; Collaborators: Louise Rollins-Smith (Vanderbilt University), Doug Woodhams (UMass-Boston), Lori Williams (NCWRC), Bill Reeves (TWRA), and Tim Herman (Indoor Ecosystems)

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is a recently discovered fungal pathogen that is emerging in Europe. Substantial concern has been raised about the possibility of Bsal’s introduction in North America and the associated risk to native amphibians, especially salamanders where about 50 percent of species exist worldwide. In particular, the southern Appalachian Mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot for salamander species. The objectives of this study will be to estimate the susceptibility of several native amphibian species to Bsal infection and disease. These data will be used to inform spatial risk models that estimate threat of Bsal emergence in the United States.

Shigetoshi Eda (PI) and Jayne Wu (co-PI)

This project aims to develop a low-cost, simple-to-use, highly sensitive and selective point-of-care detection system for pen-side diagnosis of viral infectious diseases in animals, such as influenza A, pseudorabies, swine fever, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. We are developing an on-site diagnostic device for detection of pseudorabies virus infections in feral hogs by utilizing our proprietary ACEK-enhanced capacitive sensor technology.

Emma V. Willcox, Riley F. Bernard

Surveying buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) to 1) ascertain which buildings are being used by bats as summer roosts; 2) asses the timing and duration of building occupancy and roost status (e.g., temporary, maternity); 3) determine why buildings are selected for roosting; 4) develop management recommendations for buildings used by bats; and 5) devise standardized protocols for surveying buildings for bat use. The project is providing information and results that will allow GSMNP managers, and managers of other national parks, to individually assess historic and non-historic buildings, and, based on the conservation status of the bat species present, make informed management decisions regarding bat exclusion; restriction of human use and public access; and timing of construction, repair, and maintenance activities. The intent is to help manage buildings in a manner that protects WNS imperiled bats, while concurrently preserving and maintaining these structures, ensuring human health, and enhancing visitor experiences.

Emma V. Willcox, Riley F. Bernard

Improving understanding of tricolored bat (Perimyotis subfalvus) roosting ecology and management by: 1) assessing the current status of tri-colored bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP); 2) identifying roost trees used by tri-colored bats during spring and summer; 3) characterizing roost trees selection; 4) locating cave hibernacula in the GSMNP used by tri-colored bats; 5) determining the current status of tri-colored bats in cave hibernacula; and 6) developing management recommendations for tri-colored bat roost trees and caves. This project will provide information on the distribution and health of tri-colored bat populations in the GSMNP, as well as well as increase understanding of aspects of spring/summer roost tree and winter cave hibernation ecology that can be used when developing management recommendations for the species.

Emma Willcox, Riley Bernard, William Stiver and Ashleigh Cable

Examining the roosting and foraging ecology of pregnant, lactating, and non-reproductive female PESU during the spring/summer maternity season to aid in recovery planning and development of regulatory mechanisms and mitigation strategies that promote species persistence.

J. Rhinehart, Patrick Keyser, G. Bates, J. Jennings (University of AR), J. Lehmkuhler (University of KY), C. Boyer, A. Ashworth (USDA – ARS)

Several recent severe droughts have impacted fescue-belt forage agriculture through damaged stands of cool-season grasses, reductions in herds, and increased costs for purchased feeds. Alternative forages, especially native grasses, such as switchgrass and big bluestem, are far more drought tolerant than tall fescue but need to be compared to other warm-season options such as summer annuals (crabgrass) and bermudagrass. Two grazing experiments, one at Ames Plantation and the other at Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center have been conducted to compare beef production, economics of that production, and drought tolerance for these warm-season forages. We used water-use efficiency measures to evaluate drought tolerance.

Dr. Matt Gray, Dr. Debra Miller, Dr. Patrick Cusaac

Elucidate risk factors that could contribute to the emergence of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) in North America. Visit the Bsal website for more information and updates.

Emma V. Willcox, Riley F. Bernard, Gary F. McCracken

Investigating whether torpor, winter cave emergence, and foraging behavior contribute to differences in the susceptibility of four target bat species: gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Indiana bat (Myotis Sodalis), eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii), and tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) to white-nose syndrome.

Wood Science

Adam Taylor (UT-FWF), Chad Hellwinckel (UT-AgEcon), Scott Myers (USDA APHIS)

The fumigation of logs for export from the US represents one of the largest quarantine and pre-shipment use exemptions for methyl bromide (MB). Log fumigations require high doses of MB to kill pinewood nematodes and the oak wilt fungus, the two most important pests for log exports. The phase out of MB has made the fumigant more expensive and makes its availability in the future uncertain. In addition, federal and state air quality regulations restrict MB use and thus have reduced the volume of log exports from the US. In the future, if quarantine and pre-shipment use exemptions for MB for log exports expire or are restricted, our log exporters will be left with few options to effectively treat logs for export. Commercially viable alternatives to MB are desperately needed for US log exports to protect a market worth over $2.3 billion annually. Two alternative fumigant products, sulfuryl fluoride (SF) and phosphine (PH3), offer the best available options to provide effective quarantine level control of wood pests with minimal disruption to current industry practices, infrastructure, product quality, and economics. This integrated project will combine research on alternative fumigants and engagement with commercial fumigators to perform scaled-up trials, conduct economic analyses, and facilitate the use of fumigant alternatives for important wood export commodities. Read the journal article on efficacy of methyl bromide and alternative fumigants against pinewood nematode in pine wood samples.

Tim Young

Project objectives: 1) “Characterize and update data sources for mapping and analysis of a Natural Disaster Vulnerability Index (NDVI) in the context of BioSAT”; and 2) “Develop analytical capabilities accessible through BioSAT’s web-based framework.”

The ARCGIS database is updated (ArcGIS 10.2.2) with the most current data on natural disasters (e.g., damaging winds, drought, fire, etc.). The methods include an analytical capability that accounts for: 1) The economic dimension of vulnerability; 2) The social dimension of vulnerability; and 3) The environmental dimension of vulnerability. This new methodology will provide a new risk assessment tool for the biomass supply chain. This will assist practitioners by improving their analytical capabilities when examining “risk” and natural hazards in the feedstock supply chain. This will allow for more meaningful economic spatial analyses in the context of risk.

Most of the project work to date has focused on Objective 1: “Characterize and update data sources for mapping and analysis of a Natural Disaster Vulnerability Index (NDVI) in the context of BioSAT”; and Objective 2: “Develop analytical capabilities accessible through BioSAT’s web-based framework.” (www.biosat.net).

Adam Taylor

Standard methods for treated wood preservative retention analysis pool a large number of small wood samples (cores) to provide an average retention value with no estimate of variability within the charge. Recently a statistical tool for estimating variability has been described, which uses multiple subsamples. If this method were to be adopted, either more cores in total would be required to provide the same volume of wood sample per analysis, or the analysis would need to use less sample volume. This research is developing the latter approach, using commercially-available, reduced-volume x-ray fluorescence (XRF) sample cups for the analysis of wood treated to varying levels of preservative retention.

Timothy M. Young (UT), Patti Lebow (USFS Forest Products Lab), Stan Lebow (USFS Forest Products Lab)

Objectives: 1) Characterize the variability expected in retention values when treated wood charges are measured multiple times; 2) Determine operational target levels given observed variability.

The statistical analysis will be based on “paired” charge retention data for commercial charges. These are charges for which both treating plant and inspection agency retentions are available. The identity of the treating plant and preservative will be masked by coding them with generic labels, and the preservative retentions will be normalized around the target retention. The data will also contain information on the ‘Use Category,’ species grouping, and whether the sawn material is greater than 2 inches in thickness. Statistical quality control techniques will be used to analyze the data. A capability analysis will be conducted for the paired charged data relative to the specifications required by the testing agencies. Short-term and long-term variability will be estimated for the capability study (e.g., statistical process control, components of variance, etc.). This will include an assessment of data quality using accepted industrial statistical techniques. 

The project will include: 1) recommendations of operational target levels given current short-term and long-term variability relative to the lower specification limits; 2) recommendations on data quality; 3) recommendations on root cause analysis for reducing variability based on several mill tours.

Emma Willcox, Mallory Tate, Daniel Benson, Lindsay Shaw

Investigating the occurrence, habitat associations, and spatial distribution of S. putorius in Tennessee.

Emma Willcox, Adam Willcox, Hannah Shapiro


Evaluate the actual and perceived ecosystem services bats provide in Cambodia and people’s knowledge of and willingness to participate in bat conservation programs that promote sustainable agriculture and food security.