Click the links below to view information about scientific research.
In the world of science, state parks function as outdoor laboratories, and research opportunities exist in a variety of disciplines such as botany, geology, zoology, ecology and archaeology/anthropology. The long range goal of the division's research program is to provide a measurable, repeatable and objective analysis of each park's resources through scientific studies ranging from simple descriptive inventories to complex, ecosystem-scale analyses.
Scientific research on lands within the state parks system requires a research activity permit. If you are interested in conducting scientific research in a state park, see the Research tab for more information and a permit application form.
Although the number of research projects is on the rise, the majority of those projects have been small in scope and duration. Consequently, our understanding of park ecosystems remains far from complete, and management decisions are sometimes made without adequate information. Awareness of state park system research needs is slowly increasing among the academic community, and several parks are now benefiting from long-term research studies or monitoring programs. Examples include:
It is essential that management decisions be based on up-to-date, scientifically sound information. Currently that information is absent from most parks. Park-specific research plans are needed throughout the system, and the Resource Management Program has identified the following as research priorities:
The division has a long-standing need for a standardized, systematic inventory of each park's plant and animal species, soils, water and air quality, and natural communities. Most parks have virtually no useful information on entire categories, and frequently, the information on file is either incomplete, inaccurate or outdated. For example, vegetation maps for Pilot Mountain date from a 1942 report. Prior to a mapping project initiated at Jockey's Ridge in 1996, the most current topographical maps dated from 1974. Comprehensive inventory guidelines based on the National Park Service's protocols were developed and distributed to each park in late 1999. Park-specific inventory needs have been established, and a simple electronic database has been developed to facilitate consistency in compiling and maintaining inventory data. High priority system-wide needs include complete zoological and botanical inventories; vegetation and habitat type mapping; the location and condition of rare species and the location and condition of cultural resources.
The comprehensive biological inventory guidelines that were developed in 1999 also include protocols for developing long-term monitoring studies. By periodically updating a park's baseline inventory information, these repeated measurements of important biological indicators provide the most objective method with which to:
Except as noted above, there is a general system-wide absence of long-term monitoring studies. Particularly pressing issues include monitoring changes over time in fire-adapted natural communities; assessing aquatic species abundance and distribution as indicators of water quality; tracking rare species abundance and distribution as indicators of overall ecosystem health; detecting and evaluating gypsy moth infestations, which could dramatically alter forest structure and moth and butterfly species distributions at a number of parks; and monitoring the introduction and spread of exotic species, many of which have severely altered the natural landscape and displaced native species.
There are essentially no standardized monitoring programs available for direct implementation, nor is it likely that one set of procedures will be appropriate for all parks in which monitoring is needed. Therefore, the development of long-term cooperative research agreements will be essential. This will require Resource Management Program staff to identify state and regional research institutions with specialized expertise in a variety of fields and to coordinate appropriate research projects within the parks. These collaborations would be intended to produce a scientifically sound basis for planning, development and management decisions. At present, there is no source of funding to implement these cooperative research agreements.