Drs. Arbogast and Kamel Awarded Sizable Grant to Study One of NC’s Rarest Habitats

Monday, May 16, 2022

Dr. Brian Arbogast and Dr. Stephanie Kamel of the UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology have been awarded $313,867 grant from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to conduct the first comparative conservation assessment of small mammals inhabiting spruce-fir forests on the highest mountain peaks of western North Carolina.

The research focuses on using genetic techniques to help inform the conservation and management of several species of small mammals restricted to the unique high-elevation spruce-fir forests. It will also provide insights into the biodiversity of one of the state’s rarest habitats.

“From the coast to the mountains, North Carolina is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, several of which are rare and of conservation concern. One of these is the spruce-fir forest ecosystem, which only occurs in relatively small patches on the highest mountain peaks in North Carolina,” said Arbogast. “These high-elevation coniferous forests are home to a number of species of small mammals, such as the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel, that occur nowhere else in the state.”

The grant will also support the training of several graduate and undergraduate students in conservation genetics.  The team will conduct a comparative population genetic analysis of five species of small mammals associated with the spruce-fir ecosystem of the southern Appalachians. For four of these species (the rock vole, the southern red-backed vole, the woodland jumping mouse, and the red squirrel), the team will conduct new field surveys, collect tissue samples and perform detailed population genetic analyses using both mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA markers.

The researchers will work closely with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff and other stakeholders. The research is slated for completion in 2026.

-- Venita Jenkins

Dr. Brian Arbogast standing near flowers

 Dr. Brian Arbogast

 Dr. Stephanie Kamel sitting in front of a teal backdrop

 Dr. Stephanie Kamel