Dr. Janaki R.R. Alavalapati, Dean
School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences
3301 Forestry and Wildlife Building
602 Duncan Drive
Auburn, Alabama 36849-3418
Lora Smith, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center
“Biological Connectivity Among Geographically Isolated Wetlands: Patterns Across Space and Time”
Seminar is held at 11 a.m. in Classroom 1221 in the SFWS Building, 602 Duncan Drive, Auburn, AL.
Abstract: Geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs) provide important ecosystem services including water storage, nutrient processing and sequestration, and wildlife habitat. Although there is increasing recognition of these services, many GIWs are not afforded regulatory protection at the state or federal level and it has been estimated that more than 50% of GIWs in the southeastern U.S. have been altered by agricultural and urban land uses. Despite large scale alterations of wetlands and surrounding forests, many GIWs persist within agricultural landscapes and a basic understanding of the role of these wetlands as wildlife habitat is of interest. We have examined the effects of local and landscape scale variables on wetland use and connectivity for a broad suite of fauna (amphibians, reptiles, and wading birds) in southwestern Georgia. Among amphibians species richness, diversity and abundance is highest in GIWs with more surrounding forest and wetland land use. Likewise, genetic data indicate that connectivity among populations of some amphibian species (southern cricket frog and dwarf salamander) is positively related to the amount of forest and wetlands in the surrounding landscape. However, populations of another amphibian species (southern leopard frog) show little genetic differentiation even at large spatial scales (>20 km) and within agricultural landscapes. Freshwater turtles frequently move over land among wetlands. One species, the yellow-bellied slider, moves through natural pine forests more frequently than agricultural land or pine plantations. American alligators use GIWs for nesting and juvenile habitat, whereas adults use perennial streams. Alligators use intervening wetlands as stepping stones for movements among habitats. Wading bird use of GIWs is high in wetlands in agricultural landscapes during breeding season, but increases in GIWs in forested landscapes late in the hydroperiod, when larval amphibians are the most abundant prey. Understanding biological connectivity among these wetlands is critical to ensure that landscapes are protected at appropriate scales to conserve species and ecosystem function.
Biography: Lora Smith is a research scientist at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center (Jones Center) in southwestern Georgia. She received a B.S. in Biology from Eckerd College and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. Her M.S. research focused on the ecology of the gopher tortoise in north-central Florida and her Ph.D. research was on the status and ecology of the ploughshare tortoise in northwestern Madagascar. After completing her Ph.D. in 1999 she worked for the U.S. Geological Survey as a research wildlife biologist conducting an amphibian inventory and monitoring project at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. She joined the Jones Center in 2001 and her research program includes a long term study of the effects of predation on the gopher tortoise, ecology of upland snakes, and habitat predictors of pond-breeding amphibians. She is an active member of the Gopher Tortoise Council and The Wildlife Society.