Early spring has arrived in Southwest Georgia! We wrapped up a busy 2023 and have started 2024 off strong in research, conservation, and education. 

In this issue, we highlight our Woods research program, including our Ecological Silviculture, Landscape Ecology, and Ecohydrology Labs and the work of our Conservation and Education programs from November 2023 to March 2024. 
Helping Our Neighbors: Rapid Response Research in Pecans
Georgia is the top state for pecan production, supplying around one third of all U.S. pecans. The epicenter of production is in Southwest Georgia near Albany. In a significant development for rural communities in Georgia, the University of Georgia (UGA) and The Jones Center at Ichauway’s Landscape Ecology Lab were awarded a research grant to help pecan growers reduce risk from hurricanes. The one-year study aims to improve preventative measures for hurricane damage for pecan growers and understand how the risk of wind damage changes with tree size and orchard placement. Read More 
How Does Longleaf Pine Growth Respond to Climate Fluctuations and Drought? 
In December 2023, João Campôa and Jones Center silviculturist Dr. Joshua Puhlick published research on longleaf pine growth responses to climate fluctuations and drought. Campôa, a Fulbright scholar from Portugal, and members from the Ecological Silviculture Lab collected wood cores from longleaf and slash pines in uplands and sandhills throughout Ichauway. To determine growth response to droughts, Campôa and Puhlick used a resistance index which compares growth during a drought to growth prior to drought, and to growth after drought. They found that these species were less resilient to frequent and intense droughts that have occurred since the 2000s than they were to droughts during the 1950s. Campôa and Puhlick speculated that as the trees aged, they may become less resilient to droughts. This research highlights the importance of understanding the impact of novel climate conditions on tree growth and using silvicultural treatments that reduce tree vulnerability to drought. 
Ichauway Forest Dynamics Plot: Local Research for Global Results 
In November 2023, the Landscape Ecology Lab launched a new, long-term study that was recently welcomed as the 77th plot in the Smithsonian ForestGEO Network. Research in the Ichauway Forest Dynamics Plot is aimed at understanding ecological change and fire ecology in longleaf pine sandhills and cooperates with shared protocols and data across a global network of similar plots. This massive effort involved identifying, mapping, and tagging over 18,000 trees in a 37-acre study area using conventional techniques combined with terrestrial lidar scanning. Early efforts in the plot are led by Jones Center and Tall Timbers postdoctoral researcher Dr. Nicole Zampieri who is conducting a dendroecological reconstruction of the area and investigating patterns of fire mortality in pines and oaks. Read about the establishment of the Ichauway Forest Dynamics Plot
Restoring the South’s Longleaf Pine Can Also Save Water 
The Southeast faces water scarcity issues that concern farmers and conservationists as droughts can threaten aquatic habitat and agricultural productivity. A recent study from The Jones Center at Ichauway finds that open pine woodlands use less water than watersheds with agricultural and other forest landcover. Watersheds with high longleaf pine cover have 7% more streamflow than those with lower cover and 92% higher streamflow during droughts. Listen to the highlights. 
Hurri-Cones: Uncovering New Forest Disturbance Impacts 
A recently published paper by Jones Center landscape ecologist Dr. Jeffery Cannon on hurricane-induced reproduction in longleaf pine, has received national attention. In an early 2024 response to the article, researchers in the Western U.S. praised the study’s novel hypothesis and significant results in the world of tree seed production. The study incorporated a newly developed classification of hurricane wind regimes and connects hurricanes with masting (a synchronous increase in seed production) in longleaf pine. In fact, Cannon found that hurricanes stimulate longleaf pinecone production by 71% in the second year after a hurricane. 
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Convening Natural Resource Leaders
In late 2023, the Southern Group of State Foresters held their Winter Meeting at Ichauway. This influential group of leaders representing 13 southern states was joined by multiple federal representatives from the USDA Forest Service. Jones Center Director and Entomologist Dr. Kier Klepzig shared a vital update on the Pine Pandemic Preparedness Plan, an important new effort co-led with UGA’s Dr. Kamal Gandhi. 

Approximately 25 agriculture and natural resources professionals visited Ichauway as part of an 18-month leadership development program, Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry. 
Seeing the Forest for the Trees
An aerial view of Ecological Forestry Workshop participants in a mature longleaf pine stand.
Our Ecological Forestry workshop, a core educational offering of The Jones Center, instructed nearly 20 natural resources practitioners in fundamental methods of ecological forestry, a management approach that uses natural disturbances and ecological processes as a guide to silvicultural prescriptions and restoration practices that we practice at Ichauway. Participants represented federal, state, private, and non-governmental organization land holdings. 
Regional Water Planning in Action
The Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Regional Water Planning Council met at Ichauway in November to discuss regional updates and regulation updates from the Chief of the GA Environmental Protection Division’s Watershed Protection Branch. Recent aquatic habitat and freshwater mussel surveys conducted by Center staff are a vital part of the Habitat Conservation Plan for the lower Flint River basin. 
Agricultural Wetlands' Hidden Value 
Local agricultural producers and Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors gathered at The Jones Center for an inaugural lunch-and-learn that included a video screening and panel with Jones Center and Auburn University researchers on the importance of agricultural wetlands. The video will be released broadly this spring. View Discovering the Value of Agricultural Wetlands. 
Smoke & Air Quality Regulation Changes 
The Jones Center at Ichauway hosted two smoke-centric events in early 2024. In January, a Georgia Tabletop meeting convened representatives from the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), USDA Forest Service, US DOI, Georgia DNR, Georgia EPD, Georgia Forestry Commission, and several private land managers/prescribed burners in the Albany and Red Hills region to discuss the recent EPA PM2.5 rule change. Air quality regulations can directly impact prescribed burning. This regional meeting has national implications to federal air quality regulations. In February, Smoke Summit VI convened. The summit is a regional meeting of the minds of the prescribed fire and air quality world. State forestry and air agencies from southeastern states as well as regional leadership from U.S. EPA, the Southern Group of State Foresters, USDA Forest Service, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, Tall Timbers Research Station, and the Southern Fire Exchange gathered to discuss strategies for the use of prescribed fire within the new regulatory framework. 
Student Experiential Learning
Albany State University students and Jones Center contributors on a boardwalk at Rhexia Pond an open grassy depressional wetland.
In early March, students from Albany State University visited Ichauway to learn about longleaf pine and its associated wetlands and wildlife. The group went to the field to take tree cores, visited red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees, and examined amphibians captured in one of Ichauway’s wetlands. 
Assistant Natural Resource Manager, David Sisson, explaining how to set a Pig Brig corral trap to ABAC students.
Students in Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College’s (ABAC) Wildlife Damage Management Class spent three days at The Jones Center learning about animal trapping procedures. Students received hands-on experience setting foothold traps and feral swine corral traps.   

Students from UGA visited Ichauway as part of a wildlife damage course taught by collaborator Gino D’Angelo, a frequent collaborator of Jones Center wildlife biologist Dr. Mike Conner. Students conducted field work with USDA APHIS Wildlife Services nearby in Leary, GA. 
UGA students in front of an active prescribed burn
The UGA Prescribed Fire Short Course returned for their 22nd year for multiple days of longleaf pine and prescribed fire content including observations of operational burning by Conservation staff. 

A New Research Workforce Development Program 
The Woods to Water (W2W) project is an experience-based, post-baccalaureate learning program funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, in partnership with The University of Alabama. The project is aimed at helping budding natural resource professionals understand critical linkages between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The program will provide a year-long immersive, cohort- and field-based program in standardized research methods and data science. We are accepting applications for the W2W project until March 30.
Tracking Quail
In November, we trapped and processed over 150 Northern bobwhites that are now part of a collaborative research project with Tall Timbers, the Albany Quail Project, and Mississippi State University. Of the captured birds, 115 received unique leg bands and a few were fitted with a micro-GPS backpack. Moving forward, we will triangulate the backpacked birds several times per week to determine their location, track mortality (both timing and causes), and locate nests for reproductive monitoring.⁠ 
2024 Off to a Blazing Start
Prescribed burn in mature longleaf pine forest
Our Conservation staff burned over 4,700 acres between January 1 to March 10. Each year, they burn an average of 12,000 acres to accomplish Center research and management objectives. In late fall 2023, Conservation staff completed mulching in wetland areas as part of a larger restoration effort to revert to vegetative conditions favorable for wildlife species found in Coastal Plain seasonal wetlands. This method of vegetation and fuel management will allow the reintroduction of frequent prescribed fire. 
Ichauway Conservation Fellowship Program Expands
New Conservation Fellow, Bradley Pruitt joined the team in January 2024. Bradley hails from North Georgia, graduated from UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources in 2020, and most recently worked as a feral swine specialist for USDA APHIS Wildlife Services in Southwest Georgia. Conservation plans to add a third conservation fellow later in 2024. 
A Quarter Century of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers
Our red-cockaded woodpecker program celebrated its 25th breeding season and our Ichauway population has grown to 67 clusters with 56 potential breeding groups. We recently assisted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources with the installment of clusters in the Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management Area. 
Field Guide to Hydrogeology 
Water resources are a regular topic of conversation in Southwest Georgia, especially in the Dougherty Plain region, an area where unique natural ecosystems share water with some of the most productive agricultural areas in the state. The Jones Center at Ichauway sits in the middle of this region, and recently released a publication in collaboration with Louisiana State University detailing how water from the Floridan aquifer interacts with the land surface. The Field Guide to the Hydrogeology of Ichauway takes a deep dive into the workings of this system. The guide uses easily observed land features as examples where geology and hydrology come together. 

A new book on ecological forestry across multiple systems is now available. The Jones Center contributed to Chapter 5, which highlights ecological silviculture of longleaf pine woodlands. Ecological forestry is a hallmark of our land management at Ichauway, which made this contribution to a nationally relevant reference book on ecological forestry an honor.

Faith Kruis (MS, Wildlife Ecology Lab) completed her MS in November 2023 and is now a Nonnative Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lewis Marquez (PhD, Entomology Lab) successfully defended his Doctoral Dissertation at Emory University under the co-supervision of Dr. Cassy Quave and Dr. Kier Klepzig. Dr. Marquez’s dissertation, Discovery of Novel Natural Products to Combat Multidrug Resistant Bacteria and Fungi, contained 620 pages and 7 chapters, most of which are already published as journal articles. 
Gabe Nyen (MS, Ecological Silviculture Lab) received the Third Place Student Poster Award for his presentation of silvicultural strategies for converting longleaf pine plantations to multi-aged stands at the Biennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference in Nacogdoches, TX as well as the People’s Choice Award for his presentation at the 2023 Mississippi State University thesis competition. 
Haley Ritger (PhD, Ecohydrology Lab) completed her PhD in November from the UGA Warnell School of Forest Resources examining links between prescribed fire, tree defenses, and bark beetle populations. Dr. Ritger is now working as a supervisory natural resources officer on Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. 
Kurt Sigler (Fellow, Conservation) completed his Ichauway Conservation Fellowship in January 2024 and accepted a position as a natural resources technician at Ft. Moore in Columbus, GA. 
Justine Smith (MS, Wildlife Ecology Lab) received Best Student Speaker at the 2023 Southern Forestry and Natural Resources Management GIS Conference. After completing her MS in August 2023, she started a PhD with Dr. Mike Conner furthering her research on wild pigs. 
McKayla Susen (MS, Herpetology Lab) received second place for her student presentation, “The influence of soil texture and vegetation structure on gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrow characteristics and burrow site selection,” at the 45th Annual Gopher Tortoise Council Meeting in Tifton, GA.