UT Hosts Student Research in Smokies

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee is helping 58 high school students from across the Southeast conduct hands-on research in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The program is part of the University of Tennessee’s Math and Science Regional Center and the Tennessee Geographic Alliance summer Upward Bound program.

April Stair, a junior at Union County High School in Luttrell, Tenn., is one of 58 students in a UT program to study the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Alliance administrator Kurt Butefish said the students would be looking for ferns and Turks cap lilies, a bright-orange flower that blooms at higher elevations.

“There will be 11 teams that will go to different trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. Four or five students will be teamed up with an Upward Bound assistant and an expert in biology who can identify plants.

“They will go out 200 meters, stop, lay out a 7.5 meter radius and inventory either Turks cap lilies or ferns within that radius.”

The inventory is part of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a 10-year federal project to collect and identify all life forms in the park.

Butefish said the data students collect will be used to create maps for the ATBI project.

“The students will record the number and type of plants, including the canopy and tree cover, and then go 200 meters further and do the same thing at about 16 data points,” Butefish said. “Then the teams working with the ATBI will come back to UT, input all the data gathered and create distribution maps for use by the ATBI.”

Kurt Butefish

Butefish said the experience provides the students with the scientific training needed to identify the plants and pinpoint their location using global positioning satellite systems.

Butefish said the ATBI has been in progress for four field years. Scientists and volunteers have found 235 new species and more than 1,700 species that were new the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he said.

The UT project is supported in part through a $48,040 grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation.