AREC's Professor Epanchin-Niell Co-Authors Work on Predictors to Understand Variation within Ecosystems

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Image Credit: Sean Pavone

November 11, 2022

Land management decisions have profound impacts on biological communities. Various administrative units are likely to implement different management decisions, with the result that consistent biological patterns that track administrative boundaries may emerge. To assess these relationships, we collected data on land cover, disturbance evidence, and tree communities in randomized sampling sites located in National Park, US Forest Service Wilderness, and US Forest Service Non-wilderness distributed across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Protected Area-Centered Ecosystem (GRSM PACE). We examined how present-day values for these ecological responses were linked to both biophysical site characteristics (as the foundation for ecological communities) and jurisdiction type (as categories that integrate the combination of dynamic social decisions and management practices since initial designation). The variable representing administrative unit, jurisdiction type, acted as an umbrella indicator of the management trajectory and social influences that have affected a site and emerged as an important predictor of groundcover types (grass and litter), tree diversity, and wildlife sign at sites across the GRSM PACE. This was an exploratory study with limited sample size, so more data are needed to explore the mechanisms driving these relationships. These initial findings, however, suggest that differences in management activities alter the ecological trajectory of sites across the PACE. Given dynamic and diverse management practices, our data suggest jurisdiction overlaid on biophysical site information may be useful to rapidly assess how socially defined landscape activities impact biological responses, particularly when both are stressed by global change.

Clare E. Aslan, Samuel Veloz, Rebecca S. Epanchin-Niell, Mark W. Brunson, and Benjamin A. Sikes "Integrating Social and Ecological Predictors to Understand Variation within Ecosystems: A Case Study of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park PACE," Natural Areas Journal 42(4), 284-292, (21 October 2022).