Environmental Stressors, Land Use Legacies, and Georgia’s Iconic Maritime Forests

The past, present, and future fate of forests on Georgia’s barrier islands is motivating a lot of work in our lab these days….
Together with Warnell faculty colleagues Nate Nibbelink and Clint Moore, we’ve got 4 years of funding to study how multiple stressors —

deer herbivory, hurricane damage, fire suppression, and water availability

— are affecting tree regeneration in different forest types on Jekyll Island.  This project includes not only ecological research, but also social science to examine how different stakeholders understand the connections between deer, climate, management decisions, and the current and future of the forests on Jekyll Island.  It also will include Structured Decision-Making, a methodology that helps analyze how different management strategies will deliver different degrees of “success” in terms of the range of diverse goals and values that different stakeholders may have.

That project dovetails nicely with Hannah’s ongoing work on St. Catherine’s Island, where she’s been investigating how legacies of different land uses are manifest in the structure and functioning of forests today, and how they oak seedlingmay be limiting expected patterns of succession.  There, the consequences today’s stressors, particularly deer and feral hog herbivory, are particularly dramatic.  Nobody has found a single oak sapling more than a meter tall anywhere on the island!
With Joseph’s recent arrival and complementary interests in fore ecology, we’re aiming to establish replicated studies of multiple stressors on 4 different barrier islands. This is particularly exciting because it would create much more robust, generalizable understanding of what’s affecting the future of our barrier island forests, and would span areas that are managed with a wide range of different objectives. We are really excited to begin building a community of researchers, managers, and research projects that are all rooted in our shared reverence and fascination with maritime forests!