Skip Navigation

The Carolina Vegetation Survey Documents Species Diversity at Multiple Scales (Robert Peet Lab)

Text:
Increase font size
Decrease font size

Research Environment

A Diverse Department

The Department of Biology has 40 faculty who span the entire scope of modern biology, from cell, molecular, and developmental biology to physiology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. The department is committed to maintaining an intellectually diverse and broad-based community of scientists. Interactions are common among faculty and students, fostering a supportive environment that emphasizes collaboration and resource sharing. About half of the faculty work in evolution, ecology and organismal biology (EEOB). The research interests of EEOB faculty encompass a wide diversity of perspectives, ranging from paleobiology to physiology to evolutionary biology and ecology.

Superb University Resources

The Department of Biology is embedded in a strong university community. This includes a wider group of scientists who are interested in evolution, ecology and organismal biology. For instance, many of the EEOB faculty hold joint appointments in the UNC-CH Department of Marine Sciences and the Ecology Curriculum. The primary mission of the latter group is to offer high quality, customized, interdisciplinary graduate-level training in human and biological ecology. In addition, UNC-CH School of Medicine, which is a 5 minute walk from the Department of Biology, affords opportunities for research in disciplines such as microbiology, neurology, and physiology. Other campus resources include the outstanding North Carolina Botanical Garden, the UNC Herbarium, and the excellent Couch Biology Library, which maintains separate Botany and Zoology Libraries in Coker and Wilson Halls, respectively.

Outstanding Sites for Field Research

Although our students conduct their research all over the world, one of our greatest assets is the rich biological diversity and many magnificent natural areas of our state. Consider a few of North Carolina’s natural superlatives:

  • The highest mountain summits in eastern America, with eighty-two peaks rising more than 5,000 feet high and the tallest, Mount Mitchell, rising to 6,684 feet.
  • Over 320 miles of ocean beaches.
  • One of the richest diversities of plant and animal species among the states in temperate latitudes, with about 5,500 plant species and 850 vertebrate species.

The area surrounding UNC-CH provides excellent opportunities for field research. Four outstanding field research sites/facilities – Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Duke Forest, The Institute for Marine Sciences, and Highlands Biological Station – are described below.

Mason Farm Biological Reserve is a mere five minute drive from campus. This diverse and biologically rich landscape is a 367-acre tract managed by the North Carolina Botanical Garden for UNC-CH. Given to the University in 1894, this special mix of habitats – wetlands, fields and ancient forests – remains today much as it was in the late 1700s. The Reserve now lies within the Jordan Reservoir floodplain and is adjacent to several thousand undeveloped acres in the New Hope and Morgan Creek Gamelands. The mix of habitats, the expanse of this area, and the age of the landscape result in a tremendous diversity of plants and animals. Here biologists have found 800 species of plants, 216 species of birds, 29 species of mammals, 28 species of fish, 28 species of reptiles, 23 species of amphibians, and 67 species of butterflies. In fact, more different species of animals have been recorded at the Reserve than in any other comparably-sized area in the entire Piedmont. Because of this diversity, the Reserve is the site of a wide range of research projects.

Several UNC-CH faculty and graduate students conduct research in the Duke Forest, which is a fifteen minute drive north of campus. The Forest contains 7,700 acres and is managed as a research reserve by Duke University. Duke Forest contains some of the best mature examples of forest types remaining in the piedmont region. Especially interesting is the New Hope Creek corridor, with its mixture of scenic stream, upland and floodplain forests, and steep rocky bluffs covered with “relic” forests of rhododendron, purple laurel, and hemlock trees (plants normally found at much higher latitudes/altitudes).

The Institute for Marine Sciences, located on Bogue Sound at Morehead City, is a 3 hour drive from campus. Institute facilities are made available to UNC-CH faculty and students with marine-related research interests. Two ships – a 47-foot vessel and a 135-foot vessel – are available for research. The Institute also offers field courses each summer for graduate students interested in oceanography.

UNC’s Highlands Biological Station is about 5 hours from Chapel Hill in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Highland, NC. The area surrounding Highlands (elevation 3,700 feet) is renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, as well as for its spectacular scenery. The Station supports an active year-round research program in all areas of field biology. In addition, field courses are offered each summer dealing with the special biological features of the southern Appalachians.

Together, these and other resources provide unparalleled opportunities for field research.

An Unequalled Scientific Community in the Triangle

The area surrounding UNC-CH is referred to as the Research Triangle. Three major research universities anchor the three points of the triangle: UNC-CH, Duke University in Durham, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. All are within a short distance of one another, with Duke a 20 minute drive and NCSU 30 minutes away. The result is heavy traffic among the three universities. For instance, there are groups in behavior, biomechanics, and population biology that meet regularly and provide students and faculty from all three universities a critical, but cordial, atmosphere to discuss their research.

The scientists at the three universities are supplemented by a large number of researchers at corporate and government sites in Research Triangle Park, situated between the three campuses. In addition, graduate students at all three universities frequently enroll in courses at the other campuses. Thus, students at UNC-CH are actually part of a large and interactive community of EEOB researchers.