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A.T. MEGA- Transect Laura Belleville – Appalachian Trail Conservancy Elizabeth Crisfield– Penn State University Fred Dieffenbach – National Park Service Matt Stevens – Appalachian Trail Conservancy A.T. MEGA- Transect: An Introduction

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a t mega transect
A.T. MEGA- Transect

Laura Belleville – Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Elizabeth Crisfield– Penn State University

Fred Dieffenbach – National Park Service

Matt Stevens – Appalachian Trail Conservancy

a t mega transect an introduction
A.T. MEGA- Transect: An Introduction
  • Monitor – Collect and synthesize existing (and new) data on key indicators of environmental health from agencies, organizations, researchers, and citizen scientists
  • Understand – Transform data into knowledge about the status and trend of ecological health through analysis, synthesis, and modeling
  • Communicate – Engage, educate, and involve decision makers, stakeholder organizations, researchers, agencies and citizens
  • ATC and NPS land management
    • Data management
    • Analysis and Synthesis
    • Coordinate Conservation actions
  • Academic researchers
    • Monitoring protocols
    • Case studies along the trail
    • Help plan conservation actions
  • Volunteers
    • Full scale monitoring
    • Help implement conservation actions
citizen science
Citizen Science

From the days of Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the thousands of trail builders, to the current network of trail clubs, volunteers have played a key role in creating the Appalachian Trail and collectively contribute nearly 200,000 hours of labor annually.

75 years later, the A.T. MEGA-Transect initiative invites “citizen scientists” to explore the environmental health of the Appalachian Trail.

ongoing activities
Ongoing Activities
  • Acid Deposition
  • American Chestnut
  • Brook Trout
  • Elevational Landscapes
  • Forest Health
  • Invasive Species
  • Mountain Birds
  • NASA Decision Support System
  • Phenology
  • Rare Plant Monitoring
  • Vegetation Mapping
  • Visitor Use
  • Volunteer Database
  • Water Quality
  • Wildlife Surveys
show and tell
Show and Tell
  • Brief project “snapshots”
  • Many topics
  • Minimal detail
  • Questions at the end
acid deposition
Acid Deposition
  • USGS Proposal
  • Investigating soil ANC recovery process
  • 3-4 year start to finish
  • Combines
    • Intensive soil sampling
    • Forest vegetation
    • Water
  • Possible citizen science component


american chestnut
American Chestnut
  • Two types of data were collected:
  • Total number of American chestnut trees three feet in height or taller within fifteen feet on either side of the trail, per defined trail segment, and 
  • Location and description of large individual trees eight inches or greater in circumference at 4.5 feet above ground, per defined trail segment.

Flowering tree data assists in increasing the genetic diversity of a backcross breeding program, which aims to produce an American chestnut with the blight-resistant characteristics of an Asian chestnut.

Density and location data will be used to determine the environmental variables that affect the growth and survival of chestnut trees, which will help inform future reintroduction of blight-resistant American Chestnut trees in the Appalachian region.


brook trout
Brook Trout
  • National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) funding sought
    • Collaboration between USGS and Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture
    • Modeling for change in habitat suitability
topography and ecological vulnerability
Topography and Ecological Vulnerability

Migration in response to climate change is northward and upslope

Some topographies along the trail facilitate migration, others inhibit it.

forest health
Forest Health

Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) is a national program designed to determine the status, changes, and trends in indicators of forest condition on an annual basis.

Collect, analyze, and report information on the status and trends of America’s forests:

  • How much forest exists
  • Where it exists
  • Who owns it
  • How it is changing
  • How the trees and other forest vegetation are growing and how much has died or has been removed in recent years.

- Forest Service, 2005

invasive species
Invasive Species
  • Monitoring along the Appalachian Trail serves several objectives:
  • Help track the spread of problematic species.
  • Implement management action on Appalachian Trail lands to limit the spread of invasives and protect rare, threatened and endangered species as well as other critical habitats such as high elevation communities.
  • Raise public awareness and support to address the issue.

G.A. Cooper @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

mountain birds
Mountain Birds

Vermont Center for Ecostudies

  • Apply the Mountain “Birdwatch” methodology
  • Complete field manual needed to build and maintain volunteer network
  • Construct GIS layers that identify survey locations
  • Develop database, including online entry system for volunteer observers, that is NPS- and AKN-compliant
  • Conduct avian field surveys at approximately 40 routes.
nasa decision support system
NASA Decision Support System
  • Received funding May 2009
  • Integrates satellite imagery with ecological models, GIS data and on-the-ground projects to assist resource managers
  • Four year time frame.
  • Biologically timed events:
    • Frog calling
    • Bud Break
    • Fall foliage
    • Ice out
    • Bird migration
    • Insect hatch
    • Fire
  • Collaboration between:
    • ATC
    • AMC
    • NPS
    • National Phenology Network (NPN)
  • Develop a citizen science based data collection network
rare plant monitoring
Rare Plant Monitoring
  • Longest running A.T. environmental monitoring program
  • Citizen driven
  • 1759 occurrences
  • 531 species
  • ~ 22% monitored
rare plant monitoring program review new protocol
Rare Plant Monitoring: Program Review & New Protocol

96 recommendations (7 categories)

  • Program (2)
  • Monitoring priorities (12)
  • Coordination with relevant organizations (14)
  • Data collection, reporting, management & sharing (36)
  • Management priorities (8)
  • Volunteer management (20)
  • Implementation (4)

ATPO / NETN debated and prioritized recommendations

  • 20 to be implemented ASAP, others over time
visitor use
Visitor Use
  • Identify and assess vital sign indicators of visitor impacts to vegetation and soils associated with A.T. hiking and camping
  • Field staff will integrate highly trained college students with A.T. trail club “citizen scientist” volunteers.
vegetation mapping
Vegetation Mapping
  • Aerial photography beginning
    • 2009
  • Mapping and field work
    • 2010
  • Finished product
    • 2017
volunteer database
Volunteer Database

The ATC volunteer clearinghouse database is an online searchable database of all volunteer opportunities related to the Appalachian Trail.

The database has two primary purposes: Recruitment & volunteer program management.

water quality
Water Quality
  • Baseline documentation on a great diversity of water resources along the Appalachian Trail.
  • Geographic and climatic diversity adds to the challenge.
  • Need consistent protocols, data quality and volunteer training.
  • Tiered approach provides greatest value.
wildlife survey
Wildlife Survey
  • VA, WV, & MD
  • ATC partnered with the Smithsonian Institute to develop and carry out a wildlife survey on the Trail using motion-sensitive infra-red cameras.
  • Form a more complete inventory of the large mammals
  • Associate species presence with habitat size and condition