Kentucky boasts a tremendous amount of plant and animal biodiversity. The topography and longitudinal landscape changes across the state – boosting the longest cave system in the world, native prairie bluegrass landscapes, and the Appalachian mountains – provides a unique opportunity for research throughout the commonwealth. Our graduate students take advantage of the abundance of biodiversity, utilizing sites throughout the state for research.
Paul Hime – PhD 2017 (Weisrock Lab)
“My collaborators and I are working to understand and conserve the imperiled hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis). Hellbenders were probably once abundant across most of the eastern US, including in Kentucky, but many historical localities and river systems are now severely disturbed. Our research seeks to shed light on the current distribution and conservation status of hellbenders across Kentucky. We have been developing a suite of genomic resources to address two pressing conservation challenges for this large aquatic salamander: the development of a genetic sex assay and the elucidation of species boundaries and historical demography across the geographic distribution.”
Mason Murphy – MS 2016 (Weisrock Lab and Price Lab)
“I conduct my research in various streams throughout the state of Kentucky, focusing on sites in the eastern Kentucky coal fields (Appalachian plateau). I am examining the population structure and connectivity of an imperiled freshwater mussel, (Simpsonaias ambigua) and its dispersal host, the mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). Working in these sites is both challenging and rewarding. I get to discover localities of rare species, while enjoying some of the best riparian localities in Kentucky.”
Griffith Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
Jim Shaffer – PhD student (Gleeson Lab)
Located in Harrison Co., KY (38o19’48”N, 84o21’01”W) and managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), is a considered one of the best remnants of Kentucky Inner Bluegrass blue ash-oak savanna-woodland. Preserving an area of 748 acres, this site houses old farm fields in various stages of succession, small stands of advanced succession woodlots, but most importantly a mature stand of Bluegrass savanna-woodland. Throughout the region less than 1% of native Bluegrass savanna-woodland remains. Central Kentucky was one of the first areas west of the Appalachian Mountains settled by European pioneers, followed by a rapid conversion of native woodlands to croplands, pastures, and horse farms. Composed primarily of blue ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata), chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa) and shellbark hickory (Carya lacinosa), whose ages ranging from 200-450 years old, its unique site history and the foresight by the former land owners to preserve this stand of trees makes Griffith Woods a one-of-a-kind nature preserve.
In addition to being open for public use and enjoyment, active research is being conducted at Griffith Woods to better understand the ecological factors that influence savanna-woodland formation. For the past ten years, UK faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from several colleges have been involved in surveys, monitoring and research projects including long-term experiments on various aspects of the soils, hydrology, and biota of this site and other related areas. The goal of this work is to build an increasingly detailed picture of the nature and functioning of this distinctive ecosystem. In addition to incorporating this research into the management and restoration of Bluegrass savanna-woodlands, these experiments also re-establish important habitat and food resources for native organisms. In summary, Griffith Woods WMA helps to preserve one of the last pieces of an anomalous vegetation community that is entirely unique to Kentucky, while also providing space for public use and enjoyment in addition to scientific research and collaboration.