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New protocol tracks how land use influences the way streams work

Blacksburg, Va. -- Virginia Tech biology researchers have applied tools from geology, geography, and hydrologic modeling to determine the effect of different land uses on stream quality across 10 watersheds of the French Broad River in the North Carolina mountains. The result is a new protocol for determining the health or condition of huge land-water systems. The research has also resulted in a set of tools for predicting the effect of development decisions in the watersheds studied, which are near Ashville, N.C.

Biology professor Maury Valett, recent doctoral graduate Chris Burcher, and biology professor Fred Benfield will present their research at the Geological Sciences of America national meeting in Salt Lake City Oct. 16-19.

Valett and Burcher use the "domino effect" as an analogy to describe their research process. "When you knock down a string of dominos, the first one is the stimulus and the last one to fall is the response," said Valett. "We are looking at all the important entities in between." The stimuli include such land uses as parking lots, farms, and urban development. The entities are components of stream land ecosystems.

The scientific term is "path analysis" and it is a statistical process more often used in social sciences than physical sciences, Burcher said. But he found it a valuable approach for accounting for the multiple influences of different land uses on how disturbance is translated across landscapes. "The 'land-cover cascade' approach helps identify the specific pattern whereby earth manipulation results in erosion and sedimentation that combine to influence the organisms that live in streams," Burcher said.

"We would like to follow a particle from a parking lot to a stream, but we can't do that so we allow path analysis to show us how the dominos are falling," said Valett. "A realistic goal is to try to figure out where you can prop up a domino or take one out to manage a situation to improve stream
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Contact: Susan Trulove
STrulove@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech
11-Oct-2005


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