(Click on links below to go to topic on page.)
The following information was created by Dr. Mike Hardig, Assistant Professor of Biology.
Wetlands form an essential component of the natural processes that ensure humanity a healthy existence. Without water there is no life, and without wetlands the quality of water—and life—is diminished. Wetlands limit flooding and erosion, clarify and purify water, and provide nurseries for hosts of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Wetlands possess the highest species diversity of any terrestrial habitat found in the continental USA. A 1997 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that roughly 58,000 acres of wetlands are being destroyed annually.
The University of Montevallo is creating the Ebenezer Swamp Wetlands Interpretive and Research Center (ESWIRC) to focus greater research on wetland ecology and to increase educational opportunities for high school and middle school students from across the state of Alabama. Research goals center on: establishing and maintaining an inventory of plant, animal, and fungal species; monitoring water quality, rainfall, and stream flow rates, and future studies of wetland ecological processes and the effects of encroachment along the swamp margin. Education goal centers on raising the profile of the ecologic importance of wetlands to high school and middle school students, while simultaneously providing them with a sound introduction to the underlying principles of biology.
The University of Montevallo’s Ebenezer Swamp is located on Spring Creek, approximately 6 miles northeast of the University in central Alabama (Figure 1). Ebenezer swamp consists of approximately sixty acres of wooded wetlands and is home to numerous species. The forest is dominated
for the most part by Tupelo Gum (Nyssa aquatica), with occasional Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). The dominant animal life form is the Beaver (Castor canadensis); water impounded behind several beaver dams along Spring Creek has a pronounced effect on the ecology of the preserve. Other animal inhabitants include the American Woodcock (Philohela minor), Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodia), Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus), Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) Raccoon (Procyon lotor ), Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis virginiana), and various species of freshwater clams. The preserve is also home to numerous herbaceous plant species, including two species of orchids (Ponthieva racemosa and Habenaria sp.) and a rare species of cone-flower (Rudbeckia auriculata). Spring Creek and Ebenezer Swamp form a portion of the headwaters for the ecologically diverse and environmentally sensitive Cahaba River Watershed. The Cahaba is the longest remaining free-flowing river, has more species of fish per mile than any river in North America, and is one of eight river biodiversity hotspots in the U.S.
Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve
The University of Montevallo has created the Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve with the following expressed goals: (1) Preserve the existing habitat, (2) Conserve rare and endangered species within the habitat, and (3) Educate the general populace regarding the importance and fragility of wetland habitats. To further these goals, the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics has assembled a three stage development plan for the creation of ESWIRC (see Appendix 1) and has initiated the first stage of development, namely securing an adjoining 11-acre parcel required for facilities installation and public road access. Currently, the preserve is used for teaching and research purposes. UM faculty and students have begun cataloging floral and faunal species, and have initiated a permanent program of basic water quality testing.
|Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve, with proposed walkway. Click on thumbnail for larger view.|
Summary of Current Research
Since the creation of the Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve, several research projects have been initiated by faculty and students from the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics. The following are brief summaries of each.
Water Quality Testing. Students test six basic water quality parameters (i.e., temperature, pH, alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and dissolved solids) and perform fecal coliform analysis biweekly at five separate permanent sampling sites. The collected data provides an essential measure of physical factors affecting the general condition within the habitat, as well as a baseline for additional studies.
Odonate Diversity Study. Odonates (Phylum Arthoropoda:Subphylum Insecta:Class Odonata) consist of Damselflies and Dragonflies. A preliminary study has identified 6 and 11 species of Damselflies and Dragonflies, respectively. Odonates are considered good indicators of habitat quality. By keeping track of the various species present in Ebenezer Swamp we can identify major changes to the habitat as they effect Odonate diversity.
Amphibian & Fish Diversity Studies. Two studies commencing this summer (2002) will provide the beginnings of a census of vertebrate species present in Ebenezer Swamp. Both studies will employ capture and release techniques to generate a qualitative list of amphibian and fish species diversity.
Tupelo Gum (Nyssa aquatica) Survey. Water Gum is the dominant tree species in Ebenezer Swamp. By reconstructing the age structure of the Water Gum community we infer the relative ages and times of major disturbances for different areas of the swamp.
Educational Outreach Coordination
Two methods for coordinating on-site education of middle and high schools students are being considered.
The University of Montevallo is the Regional Inservice Center of Area 7 for the Alabama Science in Motion (ASIM) program. ASIM is a progressive educational program that supplies modern scientific equipment and expertise to high schools within the inservice areas. This relationship will provide a direct link between local high schools and ESWIRC for coordinating class visits. There are ten additional inservice areas within Alabama, each with its own Regional Inservice Center. Expansion of the ESWIRC coverage area will be achieved by extending coordination to each center.
Boardwalk. A boardwalk will allow guides to lead small groups safely out into the heart of the swamp, minimizing impact on the swamp and maximizing the safety of visitors. Interpretive plaques, spaced periodically along the boardwalk will provide explanations and illustrations to highlight key biological/ecological issues pertaining to the Ebenezer Swamp in particular, and wetlands in general. The boardwalk will be ADA compliant.
Meteorological Station. Continuous monitoring and logging of on-site meteorological data will improve to overall quality of swamp-related research by providing an environmental context to research data.
Stream Flow Measuring Station. A flow metering station is required for monitoring stream flow rates. The ecology of the swamp is greatly influenced by the hydrology of Spring Creek. Knowledge of stream height and flow rates will provide additional environmental context to all swamp-related research.
Teaching/Research Facility. This facility will have two basic functions. The first will be providing a place where visitors may watch an audio-visual/multimedia production on wetlands ecology and Ebenezer Swamp and examine living and preserved specimens. The second function will be to support swamp research with a basic lab facility including: benches, sinks, gas fixtures, freezers, refrigerators, chemical storage, and chemical hood. The floor plan of the teaching/research facility, in its current conception, would merge research and education spaces so that visitors may actually witness research activity, or participate in research training. Additionally, the building will provide restroom facilities for visitors and researchers. The grounds around the immediate vicinity of the facility will be developed to provide social amenities (e.g., picnic tables, amphitheater, fire pit, etc.).
For additional information, please contact:
Montevallo, AL 35115