James Patterson

My project is looking at a region type called mountain balds, specifically balds within the Appalachian mountain range. These are grass and shrub lands found at higher elevations that dot the forests of the Appalachian Mountains. Balds are currently an area of contention within the ecological scientific community. It is currently unknown if the balds were a natural occurrence or a manmade phenomenon. How and why the trees of the forest were pushed back creating an area of only grass and shrubs is still under debate. Today the balds are maintained by humans and would likely cease to exist if not maintained, leading to the question of if balds were made naturally under different climate conditions or manmade in the first place. Balds currently have little ecological use aside from a small number of species that can only be found within balds, and little practical human use aside from being remote grazing locations. If the balds are manmade and have little to no human or ecological use, then they will be a low priority for conservation. However, unless the balds are looked at more closely a valuable resource could be overlooked firmly placing the already dwindling balds into the unprotected category and possibly allowing this unique region type to disappear. My goal with this project is to use phloygeogrophy, (a technique that uses the genetic information of specimens spread out over a large area to determine how they evolved, spread and changed over time) to shed new light on the question of the balds in order to both solve a hundred years old mystery and to aid those that make decisions on ecological resource allocation by providing more information for them. My research will involve genetically sequencing a number of individuals from a member of the rose family (Rosaceae) with the common name three-toothed cinquefoil, Sibbaldiopsis tridentata, a species of plant found both in and out side of the balds; to see what kind of patterns of evolution can be seen. How Sibbaldiopsis tridentata spread and originated may give us an idea if the balds were created in ancient times or are a new development in the area suggesting a human hand in their creation. I hope my research will add more information to the question of the balds and will help to settle the mater once and for all in the future.