WWC prof/alumna catalog plants in rare mountain wetland


Conservation efforts in a mountain wetland area near the North Carolina Arboretum are getting a boost, thanks to research from Warren Wilson College professor Amy Boyd and 2015 graduate Adele Preusser.

The pair collected and cataloged more than 300 species of plants in the Sandy Bottom Wetland Preserve, in the flood plain of the French Broad River in Buncombe County. In their recently published research, the scientists say their work will “inform future conservation management efforts on the property.”

Boyd, a biology professor at the college since 2001, said Sandy Bottom and other Appalachian wetlands are at risk.

“Wetlands, in general, are some of the most imperiled ecosystems worldwide, mostly because of land development by humans,” Boyd said. “In our mountains, this is compounded by the fact that they were rare ecosystems to begin with. Wetlands form in flat places where water can pool, but in the mountains, there aren’t a lot of flat places, so natural wetlands were uncommon even before habitat loss through development.”

Sandy Bottom Wetland Preserve is “used for education and research and is managed for conservation of several rare and threatened animal species,” according to Boyd and Preusser in their research published by the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. However, a floristic study has not been completed at this level of detail until now.

Looking toward future conservation efforts, Boyd said, “Publishing is part of the responsibility of a researcher - to share what we have learned with others so that they can build upon it, or as in this case, use it in practical applications such as planning conservation management. This research will help inform conservation of this wetland preserve by providing baseline information about the plant community and diversity.”

As part of her final capstone project required for graduation, Preusser supplemented Boyd’s research through a yearlong survey of plant life in Sandy Bottom, which is managed by UNC Asheville. Preusser’s work focused on plants that were the most diverse and difficult to identify in wetland areas, according to an interview with Boyd in the 2015 edition of the college’s Owl & Spade magazine.

The opportunity to work closely with students is one of the reasons Boyd takes on scholarly projects.

“We focus on research because we are scholars. We pursued higher education because we love learning, love studying and discovering new things, not just in books but in the world.

“Our work is not only teaching students but also generating knowledge and sharing it with others. Doing research keeps us learning, practicing our craft, and involving ourselves in the scientific community,” she said.

To read “Vascular Flora of the Sandy Bottom Wetland Preserve, Buncombe County, North Carolina,” by Boyd and Preusser, visit http://castaneajournal.org/doi/abs/10.2179/16-094?code=soap-site.