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Geography professor and graduate student honored

SouleKaase_t.jpgBOONE—Dr. Peter T. Soulé and Chris Kaase were honored recently by the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (SEDAAG).

Soulé, a professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geography and Planning, (along with his long-time collaborator from UNC Greensboro, Dr. Paul Knapp) received SEDAAG’s Outstanding Research Award for his long record of research activity. Kaase, a second-year graduate student in the department, won the association’s masters-level Student Honors Paper Competition based on his master’s thesis research, which was presented at the conference.

Peter T. Soule and Chris Kaase_t2.jpgPeter T. Soulé and Chris Kaase have been honored for their research activities by the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (SEDAAG). Soulé, left, is a professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geography and Planning. Kaase is a graduate student in the department. (Photo by Jane Nicholson)

For the past 15 years, Soulé and Knapp have studied tree growth related to climate change. The two were in a Ph.D. program together at the University of Georgia and realized several years later that they were conducting similar research in climatology and biogeography.

“Most of our work has been trying to determine why vegetative growth is changing in the western United States, but we have had a lot of spin off from that work,” Soulé explained. “One project leads to another. We keep coming up with new ideas that center around a main theme of carbon dioxide enrichment stimulating plant growth.”

Soulé and Knapp also have studied the relationship between weather changes and the occurrence of wildfires in the northern Rocky Mountains. They currently are involved in a three-year National Science Foundation grant to study relationships between the growth of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees in the Northern Rockies and the rise in carbon dioxide.

“Carbon dioxide acts like a fertilizer,” Soulé said. “Because carbon dioxide is more readily available in the atmosphere, the tree doesn’t have to work as hard during photosynthesis and is able to use water more efficiently. That makes them grow faster and continue to grow during dry seasons,” he said.

Kaase has studied the effects of stream restoration in Northwest North Carolina, comparing restored and degraded stream sites. Dr. Gabrielle Katz from the Department of Geography and Planning was the project advisor.

“Steam restoration is a booming industry and science,” Kaase explained. “But there is no mandate to monitor these revegatation efforts, so we really don’t know how these restorations are evolving.”

Kaase looked at a variety of stream restoration projects to determine what the woody vegetation looked like compared with degraded agricultural sites and sites with mature forest cover along the stream banks.

He concluded a long-term study was needed to determine the ecological success of stream restorations and whether the time and effort put into them is wisely spent.

“Restored sites are much younger than regional reference conditions, so it’s possible that over time vegetation could mature to more closely resemble reference conditions,” he said.

“The restored sites in this study were relatively young, approximately 6 years old compared to intact streamside vegetation. It’s possible that over time this vegetation could mature to more closely resemble areas along the streams with the pre-existing vegetation. However, the differences in both the structure and composition of the vegetation community were significant, suggesting the possibility that restoration projects are best described as novel, human-created ecosystems,” he said.

“The bottom line suggests the importance of monitoring, which is rarely standard practice, before project implementation and for years after.”