Tag: Ecosystem

  1. Curiosity Cabinet: Hellbenders

    Curiosity Cabinet: Hellbenders

    By Peyton Proffitt

    Growing up in a gateway community, I spent most of my childhood summers swimming in the rivers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of my happiest memories are of looking for salamanders with my friends and sketching the specimens in my notebook. For my first Curiousity Cabinet entry, I decided to feature the biggest salamander of all: the hellbender.

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  2. DLiA’s Science at Sugarlands Focuses on Fish Restoration

    Pat Rakes

    By Frances Figart

    Part of the mission of any national park is protecting and restoring species that were once native. Restoring native fish is an exciting area of Smokies science that goes unseen by those who are not swimming or snorkeling in park waters.

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  3. Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    Science at Sugarlands Features Wildflowers

    By Frances Figart

    You couldn’t pick a more perfect month than May to head out on the trails to spot wildflowers. to help you learn more about them, Discover Life in America will host Wildflowers: Gems of the Smokies at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Friday, May 17, from 1–3 p.m.

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  4. Gearing up, Branching out

    Roaring Fork early spring photo by Gary Wilson

    Every spring people flock to the Smokies to view our park’s spectacular displays of wildflowers that begin blooming at the lower elevations and creep uphill as the temperatures warm and days grow longer.

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  5. EYS Exotics & Invasives: Larry and the Lady HWAs

    Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

    During my most recent Experience Your Smokies class, I learned the details of a sad story. It all started in 1951, when a seemingly innocent shipment of trees made its way from Japan to Richmond, Va. The trees were intended for used as exotic suburban showpieces. Unfortunately, they carried with them an invasive species that would, in 40 years time, almost completely destroy one of the most ecologically important tree species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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  6. DLIA Brings Beetle Mania to the Smokies: An interview with Claire Winfrey

    Beetle Study

    Did you know… about one in every four animals on the planet is a beetle! Of the  roughly 400,000 species of beetles known, some are pollinators, others recyclers –some even help to offset the effects of climate change.

    “Insects are an instant connection to the wild and an extreme example of Earth’s biodiversity,” says Claire Winfrey, a beetle expert and second-year Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Especially in warmer months, take some time to look in almost any type of habitat and you can find them.”

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  7. Smokies Life Redux: Rhododendron Revisited

    Rhododendron

    Did you know that there are more than 1,000 species of rhododendron in the world? Can you name the four species we have in the Smokies?

    I learned these things and more when I edited an article by Courtney Lix for publication in the current issue of Smokies Life. Courtney's story provides insight into this ubiquitous and resilient plant—one that might easily be taken for granted by locals and repeat visitors to the park.

    “The most common is the rosebay (R. maximum), which grows most abundantly at lower elevations but can be found nearly everywhere throughout the national park,” Courtney wrote. “Small-leaved rhododendron (R. minus) occurs frequently as well, although in smaller numbers than rosebay. The other two rhododendron species grow in mid- and high elevations, mostly above 3,500 feet: the Carolina rhododendron (R. caroliniana), and Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense).”

    A native of eastern Kentucky, I am most familiar with the Catawba variety, which was discovered in North Carolina by French botanist and explorer Andre Michaux in the late 1700s. Thanks to Courtney, I’m beginning to recognize the other types while hiking.

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  8. The Benefits of Spiders – An Interview with Kefyn Catley

    Spiders tend to get a bad rap, but they are actually critical to the balance of our ecosystems. Kefyn Catley will explain how on Friday, July 20, as part of Discover Life In America’s Science at Sugarlands series, a free public event at Sugarlands Visitor Center at which participants will get to go on a spider hunt.

    Catley, a biology professor at Western Carolina University, teaches and conducts research in the evolutionary biology of spiders. He holds a Ph.D. in arthropod systematics from Cornell, was a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, and has taught Spiders of the Southern Appalachians at Highlands Biological Station in North Carolina since 2004.

    FF: It’s not every day you meet someone who has studied spiders on four continents. Why do you find them so fascinating?

    KC: Spiders have an ancient lineage originating some 400 million years ago. They are the largest and most important group of predators on the planet and are considered a mega-diverse taxon with more than 47,000 described species with an estimated total number in the range of 75,000-190,000. Spiders are excellent models for studying ecology, behavior, biochemistry, competition, speciation, sexual selection and biogeography, among other fields. They contribute to research in biological pest control, venom chemistry and the cloning of silk.

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  9. Fireflies and Bioluminescence - An Interview with Will Kuhn

    One of the most exciting and fabulously popular events each year in late May and early-to-mid June is the flashy mating ritual of the synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains. This year’s peak dates for firefly viewing are June 7-14 and thousands of visitors will be gathering, just as they have for years, near the Elkmont Campground to observe this naturally occurring phenomenon. 

    Why does Photinus carolinus attract not only its mate but also a large human fan club through its rhythmic flashing? We asked Dr. William R. Kuhn, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tennessee, to illuminate this topic.

    FF: First of all, how are you involved with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and what makes it exciting for you? 

    WK: I am a member of Discover Life in America's board and have recently become chair of the Science Committee. In addition, I've helped with the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory's sampling effort, including collecting assassin bugs (predatory insects related to stink bugs and cicadas) in the park, as they were considered under-studied here. So far, this work has resulted in a new species record for the park. Every time I work in the Smokies, I think to myself what a privilege it is to be in such a beautiful and diverse place! 

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  10. Please don't pick our wildflowers

    Every year, visitors from all over the world travel to the Smoky Mountains to view our park's wildflowers. My favorite, Indian Pink, are blooming now at Sugarlands Visitor Center!

    Learning to identify wildflowers is just one way of enjoying the native flora of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wildflower photography, learning about folk and medicinal uses of wild plants, connecting with the cultural history of the Smokies, and using native plants as a source for artistic inspiration are some of the activities wildflower enthusiasts and aspiring naturalists enjoy. 

    Some even desire to reproduce the beauty of this park in their own home gardens by self-propagating. Others want to pick a flower and save it as a reminder of their visit. Just last week, I saw an Instagram photo of someone with yellow trillium in their hair. All of these are considered poaching – unlawful acts that do great damage to the delicate ecosystem within our park. So I beg you, do not pick wildflowers! 

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