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Field Work Begins at Franklin State Forest

The Cross Creek Forest Dynamics plots represent the longest running forest plot study I have been engaged with in my career. I inherited the data from George Ramseur shortly after I arrived at Sewanee in 1994. In 1976, George was hired by the TN Valley Authority to study forest biomass as part of an ecosystem study of two forested watersheds on the Cumberland Plateau: one at Franklin State Forest, eight miles south of Sewanee, and one at Fall Creek Falls to the north. TVA surveyed and gridded off each of these watersheds into 100m x 100m plots and George censused and mapped trees within 5 of these plots at both locations. In my first year at Sewanee, George found the original data sheets for these plots and graciously passed them along to me. In 1995, my students and I re-censused the plots in Franklin State Forest and have done so every 10 years since. Each of the 10-year censuses were conducted in the summer with a whole crew of students, and each time there was one senior student or post-baccalaureate fellow serving as the crew chief.

In the 2005 the survey crew chief was Sarah McCarthy C’99 (now Sarah Neumann). Sarah received her PhD at Michigan State and then became a professor at Alma College where she and her students came back and helped with the census in 2016. Sarah and I collaborated on the recently completed study of climate change in the wetland forest at Sinking Pond on the Arnold Air Force Base. Sarah is now a professor at Tennessee State University and this year she and I received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture to study forest regeneration on the Cumberland Plateau and specifically how mycorrhizal fungi influences the distribution and abundance of tree species in the long-term plots at Franklin State Forest and Fall Creek Falls. This summer we have embarked on a full re-census of the plots with student crews from both Sewanee and TSU.

Our field crew leader is Izzy Schutte, Sarah’s PhD student, and I serve on her dissertation committee. The Sewanee crew are all Block Fellows: Oliver Hutchens C’23, JT Michel C’24, Rob Phillips C’25, and Keegan Congleton C’25. The Cross Creek Forest Dynamics is the longest running, large-scale forest dynamics of its kind on the Cumberland Plateau. Its valuable scientific legacy has been maintained now by four generations of Sewanee research. Results from this study have informed our understanding of the importance of old-growth upland forests to the maintenance of biological diversity on the Plateau and the critical role they now play in combating climate change by sequestering and storing large amounts of carbon.

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