ecology

Hooked on Sharks

For the past 50 field seasons, researchers from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences have collected valuable data on sharks off the North Carolina coast. The survey — among the oldest of its kind in the U.S. — has lasted for decades due to the dedication of UNC researchers, staff, and students.

Caterpillars in the Coal Mine

Butterflies and moths are indicators of the overall health of an ecosystem. Through fieldwork, lab experiments, and computer modeling, researchers in the Joel Kingsolver Lab strive to understand how changing temperatures are impacting the relationship between certain species and the plants they live on.

The Life Botanic

Alan Weakley has spent his career cataloguing the plants of the Southeastern United States. Most recently, he has compiled this work into a digital guide that will aid fellow botanists and citizen scientists alike as they unearth and admire the colorful flora of the South.

Building Resilience for Storm-Battered N.C.

The record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season included 30 storms, and while North Carolina managed to dodge the 12 hurricanes that made landfall, that won’t always be the case in the future. A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UNC is combining their expertise in areas like human health, ecology, and urban planning to create a long-term holistic plan helping vulnerable communities prepare for the next generation of extreme weather events.

Johnny Randall

Johnny Randall is the director of conservation programs at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. He researches rare plant reintroduction and Venus flytrap genetics as they relate to conservation efforts.

Flocking to the Coast

Professors Allen Hurlbert and Keith Sockman want their students out of the classroom as much as possible. Every other year, the UNC researchers lead an avian biology course that explores the physiology, anatomy, evolution, and behavior of birds. Throughout the semester, the class visits wildlife reserves across the state to see these lessons in the field.

The Frog Family

David and Karin Pfennig have created a home away from home in the Arizona desert. For about five weeks every summer, the couple studies spadefoot toads. Long days and nights are filled with collecting specimen, conducting experiments, and recording observations. Not only do they bring along graduate students, but also a pair of special assistants — their daughters.

Emma York Marzolf

Emma Marzolf is a conservation grower at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. She collects native seeds from wild plant populations across North Carolina and then grows and stores them for future seed restoration efforts.

Carnivorous Conservation

Native only to a 90-mile inland radius around Wilmington, the Venus flytrap is a symbol of the Atlantic coastal plain’s unique ecology — and a contender for the federal endangered species list. As wild populations suffer due to poaching and habitat loss, UNC researchers work to preserve these carnivorous wonders through genetic testing and seed banking.

Trapped on the Surface

In the past decade, the Cape Fear River has become more susceptible to algal blooms — a potential public health concern for more than 1.5 million people relying on the river as a drinking water source. UNC researcher Nathan Hall thinks droughts and slow flows are the culprit, and aims to predict when future blooms will occur.