The great generosity of Mr. Robert Gilley resulted in the establishment of the 142 hectare Gilley Research Station to enhance field research in the Department of Biology at Appalachian State University. This undeveloped track of forest and open-field habitats provides a unique opportunity for faculty and students to conduct field research in a natural setting. Various habitat types, along with their extensive nature, provide a valuable opportunityto conduct both wide-spread and long-term projects. This is especially valuable for ecological investigations. In addition to research, the diversity at the Gilley Station provides a natural laboratory for students taking diversity-focused courses to observe and collect specimens. In this sense the property is an invaluable teaching resource.
Genetic Diversity in Foundation Species
Factors that influence the biodiversity of insects in old-field plant communities include plant species diversity and attributes in plants , for example nutrients and defensive chemicals. Recent studies point out a lesser investigated factor, genetic diversity within foundation species and how this influence associated insects. Dr. Ray Williams and students established a common garden experiment at the Gilley site in 2011 to ask how genetic variation in a key species, Solidago altissima (tall goldenrod), along with the environment (elevation) of origin, affects insect choice of plants. The Gilley property is an ideal setting for this experiment due to the extensive native plant and insect community, providing an uninhibited "reservoir" of arthropods. This investigation has to date resulted in two Masters of Science theses and numerous presentations at scientific meetings.
Genetic Variation in Black Locust and Hyperspectral Estimates of Leaf Chemistry
We know that genetic variation exists within plant populations, but we know very little regarding how this genetic variation is important to ecosystem processes that influence all species. One of the most essential ecosystem processes is nitrogen cycling because nitrogen is the most common limiting nutrient in North American forests. Biological nitrogen fixation accounts for more than 97% of natural nitrogen inputs to terrestrial ecosystems, however we have no information regarding how plant genetic diversity influences nitrogen-fixing systems. We are using natural and artificial population of black locus at the Gilley Field Station to better understand the consequences of genetic variation in nitrogen fixing forest species. This research complements parallel research in spectral analysis of forest species.