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The Paint Rock Forest Research Center An Alabama forest hosts research that could shape the future of forests worldwide.

In the heart of North American forest diversity in the species-rich Southern Cumberlands, scientists plot a 50-year study that will change our understanding of the past and future of global forests.

The Nature Conservancy's 4,000-acre Sharp Bingham Preserve on the slopes of the stunning Paint Rock River Valley is the project's permanent home.

The forests of Paint Rock are an ancient refuge of species.

Scientists from UCLA and Alabama universities are partnering with the Smithsonian Institution's ForestGEO program, The Nature Conservancy, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, and other research organizations to set up a massive natural laboratory covering hundreds of acres.

The complex geology and extraordinary biological diversity of this site make it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for understanding how species and ecosystems assemble and survive. Data from this site will tell us how forests have survived past climate upheavals and how they're likely to fare as climate changes again.

As part of a special program to encourage minority student participation in cutting-edge scientific research, Smithsonian will be partnering with Alabama A&M University to set up and monitor the forest research plots.

Paint Rock's hidden valleys are famous for their wildflower displays.
At the southern end of the Appalachians...
...on the Alabama/Tennessee line between Huntsville and Chattanooga...
...in the midst of millions of acres of rugged forests...
...where the Paint Rock River cuts a deep gorge through the Cumberlands...
...lies The Nature Conservancy's Sharp Bingham Preserve

There are few other places in North America as well suited for this effort as Paint Rock Valley in the Southern Cumberlands.

These slopes are packed with an unusually large number of oak, hickory, ash, elm, maple and buckeye tree species ...

...along with rare species like snow wreath, limerock arrow wood, and the legendary American smoketrees that are found in few other places in the world.

Understanding how so many tree species lost to much of the world managed to survive here will help us guide all forests through future climate upheavals.

The work here will also help us identify which forests and species are most in need of our conservation efforts.

These forests will be mapped with a mind-boggling intensity -- every tree and shrub larger than a pencil will be identified and monitored for a lifetime.

But all of Paint Rock's rich biological diversity will be monitored closely, including its rich assortment of wildflowers

These forests support one of the most diverse populations of trilliums in the world, along with a host of other wildflowers
One of southernmost populations of Jefferson's twinleaf mingles with the rare southern red trillium
Wake robin trillium and bluebells
Celandine poppies and wild larkspur
Yellow ladyslipper orchid
And one of the world's most important concentrations of amphibians, invertebrates, aquatic life and cave-dwelling creatures.
The Paint Rock research center will be modeled on the groundbreaking Barro Colorado research center in Panama, which each year brings in teams of international scientists. Research there has transformed the way we understand tropical forest diversity and the role of tropical forests in a changing world.
Paint Rock will be part of a 25-nation network of forest dynamic plots, and will be the first ForestGEO site in the Southeastern United States, providing valuable new data from the nation's most biologically diverse forests.
The thousands of acres within the preserve offer a rare opportunity to design a protected study area that can be maintained for decades.
These slopes tumble 1000 feet or more over springs, streams and caves into deep mountainside sinks, fostering and protecting millions of years of evolution. What will they tell us about the future of all forests?

A project of Smithsonian Institute's ForestGEO network, in coordination with The Nature Conservancy, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Alabama A&M University

For more information contact

Bill Finch • Project Developer • 251-591-2215 • finchconserve@gmail.com

Stuart Davies • Director • Smithsonian ForestGEO • 202-633-0961 • DaviesS@si.edu

Created By
Beth Finch
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