Simmons, Matthew Earl (2007-05). Studies on bottomland hardwood forest restoration and teaching with geographic information systems (GIS) in ecology labs. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The development of graduate students in the sciences preparing for careers in academia has long included elements to advance students as science researchers, but recent emphasis is being placed on developing students as instructors and education researchers as well. As such, objectives of this study included assessments of seedling responses to hydrology typical of floods in urban settings, the role of created microtopography in community development of a bottomland hardwood forest, and the influence of geographic information systems (GIS) on student motivation and conceptual knowledge. Substantial losses of bottomlands in Texas necessitate restoration to regain the ecosystem services that they provide. Restoration of proper hydrology is the most important aspect of wetland restoration, but this can prove difficult in urbanizing environments where hydrology has been irreversibly altered. Microtopography has been shown to be an important component of bottomland hardwood forests, and its restoration may aid in hydrologic restoration as gradients are created that support a diverse community. Tree seedlings were subjected to experimental flooding regimes typical of floodplain forests in rural and urban settings. Growth rates of seedlings varied over time and differed depending on species and treatment. Created microtopography resulted in a spatially heterogeneous system similar to that of natural bottomlands and strongly influenced hydrology, soil properties, survival of planted seedlings, and abundance and distribution of colonizing species. Proper bottomland restoration in urbanizing environments should include species selection based on current and potential future hydrologic conditions. In addition, restoring microtopography may improve survival of a variety of species introduced during restoration, as well as enhance colonization of a diverse plant community under changing hydrologic regimes. Trends indicated a slight improvement in attitude and performance for students that used GIS. More important, the authenticity of the experience appeared to affect student attitude. The effective use of GIS in teaching may be scale-dependent. Smallscale phenomena may be assessed as easily in a field exercise as with GIS. Using GIS to assess large-scale, complex patterns may have a substantial impact on student understanding. Further studies are needed to determine direct benefits of teaching with GIS in undergraduate ecology classrooms.

publication date

  • May 2007