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Biology, ecology and research: there’s plenty of stories waiting in Knoxville

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When you explore the outdoors of eastern Tennessee, you will experience adventures in more ways than one. While biking, hiking, paddling, fishing or just wandering, you will see the incredible diversity of views, topography and ecology. You may even stumble upon any one of a variety of ongoing research or environmental projects in the region, and with it, a story idea.

The Tennessee River, formed by the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers, is the largest tributary of the Ohio River and flows through the center of Knoxville. Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are seen frequently on the river, but more is going on underneath the surface. Conservation Fisheries is a Knoxville non-profit dedicated to preserving the aquatic biodiversity in our streams and rivers. The organization is the first facility in the Southeast to restore rare fish populations that have been eliminated because of pollution or habitat destruction. It has also developed unique, non-invasive techniques to monitor rare fish in many southeastern states.

The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, one of only 28 accredited veterinary colleges in the country, recently opened the Equine Performance and Rehabilitation Center under the direction of an equine surgery specialist who is also board-certified in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation. The location of this facility in Knoxville is fitting, as Tennessee has the second highest equine population in the United States. The UT Veterinary College also serves as the primary care facility for many organizations including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, the National Eagle Foundation, and Appalachian Bear Rescue, and has one of the highest caseloads of avian and exotic animals. The University’s One Health program is a major initiative to coordinate human, animal and environmental caretakers to improve overall health.

Tennessee is home to some of the most diverse forests and habitats (the state can claim more species of trees than all of Europe) so it is no wonder that research related to biodiversity is increasing. Unfortunately, along with the high biodiversity, Tennessee leads all other inland states with the number of threatened plant and animal species. In order to preserve this biodiversity for future generations, we need to document the variety of those in existence is crucial. The University of Tennessee is also collaborating to record the biodiversity within Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness with a focus on reforestation and regeneration of habitats.

Along with UT’s research, Discover Life in America is a local non-profit organization behind the ABTI — All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory — a joint effort with the National Park Service to record every single species within Great Smoky Mountains National

Park and beyond. The first effort of its kind, ATBI has many global organizations following its example. DLIA brings in top researchers and presents public educational programs as well as conducting the research.

Other projects within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include the reintroduction of elk after their 200-year absence. The elk project is now working to finalize an environmental management plan and create strategies for monitoring possible future impacts to the elk and the park resources. Probably better known is the Synchronous firefly, one of at least 19 species found in the park and are the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing light patterns. Visitors continue to flock to the park to see the unique display, and researchers continue to explore the science associated with the phenomenon.

For more information on any of these projects, please contact the respective representatives.

Legacy Parks Foundation: Carol Evans, Executive Director, cevans@legacyparks.org
Conservation Fisheries, Inc.: Patrick Rakes, Co-Director, xenisma@gmail.com
UT College of Veterinary Medicine: Sandra Harbison, sharbiso@utk.edu
UT Landscape Architecture: Gale Fulton, gfulton@utk.edu
Discover Life in America: Todd Witcher, Executive Director, todd@dlia.org
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.♦

– Visit Knoxville 

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