My research activities are diverse and span aspects of vegetation science from plant interactions to global patterns. However, the four projects described below serve to illustrate my current primary research interests.
Community dynamics. Much of my early research at UNC focused on plant community dynamics, a topic that I have continued to investigate throughout my career. With students and collaborators I have made extensive use of permanent plots to address these kinds of questions. We recently completed an additional resurvey of forest demography plots (some dating back to 1934) and are using these data to address a broad range of questions including urban impact, evolving successional dynamics reflecting local and global change, and changes in productivity resulting from factors such as successional dynamics and changes in atmospheric CO2.
Ecoinformatics. Ecoinformatics arrived as a subdiscipline of ecology only around the start of the 21st century. I have been active during this period in developing the necessary cyber-infrastructure and addressing science questions in the area of ecoinformatics that draws on the increasing availability of data that document attributes of places, attributes of biological taxa (species), and records of co-occurrence of species in specific places. In the past, studies of ecological communities were largely local case studies and no one knew how generalizable they were; many simply reflected the idiosyncrasies of a particular combination of time and space. We are now in a position to analyze community patterns over very large scales and assess their generality and the impacts of local contingencies.
Vegetation Classification. Formal, widely-adopted vegetation classifications are important for many purposes ranging from inventory to mapping to management prescription to simply documenting the context within which research has been conducted. In 1994 I established a collaboration consisting of the Ecological Society of American, the Nature Conservancy, the USGS and the US Federal Geographic Data Committee (with the US Forest Service as lead agency) to develop an open and scientifically credible US National Vegetation Classification (USNVC). We proposed national standards and in 2008 the Federal Geographic Data Committee adopted the key components as the US national standard. My research group and collaborators built the USNVC data archive in the form of VegBank.org, developed a peer-review system, and have recently completed the first formal revision and documentation of a significant set of Associations for the National Vegetation Classification.
Vegetation of the Carolinas. I have always been fascinated by the patterns of vegetation and biodiversity across landscapes. The Carolinas are remarkably diverse and the factors responsible for the vegetation of the region are poorly understood. In 1988, I established a collaboration to systematically document the natural vegetation of the Carolinas. Subsequently we have acquired and databased over 10,000 vegetation plots covering most of the over 500 USNVC vegetation types of the Carolinas. The resulting data are summarized on our website (cvs.bio.unc.edu) for use by applied scientists and the general public. In addition, we provide digital tools for predicting the natural vegetation of sites to guide restoration efforts.
Professional Service. I have and continue to contribute to the scientific community in numerous ways. I have served the International Association for Vegetation Science as President (2007-2011) and Publications Officer (2011-2015), I co-founded the Journal of Vegetation Science and served as one of the original Co-Editors-in-Chief (1990-1995), I organized of the North American Section, and am active in efforts to establish international standards for vegetation data. I have served the Ecological Society of America as Secretary (1992-1995), Editor-in-Chief of Ecology and Ecological Monographs (1995-2000), and co-organizer of the Vegetation Section and the Southeastern Chapter, in addition to participating in numerous other roles.
Links to websites maintained by Prof. Peet and/or his research group: