Assessing Vegetation Potential Across Landscapes and Time

USDA-NRCS efforts to document Ecological Sites (Brown, 2010) have rapidly expanded, with the intent being to use each Ecological Site’s State and Transition model (Bestelmeyer et al., 2010) as a means to enhance conservation planning.

A foundation for assessing soil change can be the Ecological Site (Creque et al., 1999, Duniway et al., 2010; Moseley et al., 2010; Townsend, 2010). Because soil is a key resource linked to many critical ecosystem functions, soil-change assessment is a key aspect of ecosystem monitoring (Herrick et al., 2006a). Gathering soil change information is especially important when assessing a soil’s resistance or resilience (Seybold et al., 1999) to disturbance. For sustainable land management to occur, land managers and policy makers need sound, scientific information on changes in soil caused by both anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic factors (Tugel et al., 2005); our projects strive to meet this need.

Soil biogeochemistry and vegetation dynamics

Vernal poolVegetation dynamics across the Northern Appalachians are derived from a complex evolution of geomorphic and anthropogenic disturbance histories. These include glacial and periglacial processes and/or historic surface mining and logging processes (Sevon, 1999).




  1. Identification of Ecological Sites and their use in quantifying soil and accompanying ecosystem change via State and Transition Models in the northern Appalachians (USDA-NRCS, PA-DCNR).
    1. Can hydrogromorphic models be used as a means for predicting wet soil Ecological Sites?
    2. Can parent material be used as a predictor of forage quality for white-tailed deer in the Northern Appalachians?
  2. Due to their unique physiology and role in essential ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling and ecosystem succession, bryophytes often serve as bio-indicators of environmental change (Brown and Bates, 1990). In the Northcentral Appalachians, bryophytes are present in and around vernal pools, and their presence may reflect differences in the sequestration of soil carbon.
    1. Determine if patterns of bryophyte species richness and biomass correlate to the quantity and distribution of labile and recalcitrant soil organic carbon pools in vernal pools located in two landscape positions in Centre County, PA.
    2. Utilize multiproxy indices and palaeoecological records to determine the genesis and development of vernal pools within the glaciated and non-glaciated regions of central Pennsylvania.
    3. Examine whether lab observations of soil attributes can be predicted by VNIR post-processed reflectance spectra measurements.

Subaqueous soil genesis and biogeochemical characteristics.

subaqueous soil genesisPresent research on subaqueous soils in estuarine environments suggests such soils could be valued in the billions of dollars due to the direct and indirect benefits they provide in carbon sequestration, habitat support, flood and water quality protection. Our research is focused on assessing carbon sequestration in freshwater subaqueous soils and legacy sediments, and in determining the fate and transport of pollutants in watersheds from the well drained, to hydric, to subaqueous soil. In addition we are examining legacy pollutant fate and transport in freshwater impoundments.

Current Projects:

  1. Genesis of freshwater subaqueous soils in an Appalachian Plateau impoundment.
  2. Regional characteristics of Pennsylvania freshwater subaqueous soils.
  3. Rapid pedogenic changes in subaqueous soils following drainage and flooding of an impoundment.
  4. Shale-gas water treatment plant pollutant accumulation in downstream impoundments.