Perspectives Online

CSI: Detecting diversity at a field research station

Bayer Environmental Science and N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences partner on a wide range of initiatives, ranging from basic research on plant health and carbon sequestration to graduate education, product development and event sponsorships. 

Based on this shared history, when Bayer launched its efforts to evaluate and their environmental stewardship of their Clayton field laboratory, they turned to N.C. State faculty to help them survey biodiversity of the site and make recommendations for ongoing stewardship of the facility.  Dr. Nick Hamon, Bayer’s vice president for Sustainable Development, dubbed the project “CSI:  the Clayton Sustainability Initiative.”

The 100+ hectare site includes office buildings and greenhouses, woodlands, test plots, a two-hole golf course for testing and demonstration, and four ponds.  The site is a transition zone between the piedmont and coastal plain, yielding interesting soil types and habitats characteristic of both regions. 

Hamon explained, “We believe that our Clayton Development and Training Center is the perfect location to begin some work around the concepts of sustainable development and carbon footprint. But before we begin any projects, we wanted a baseline survey of the biodiversity at the site, so that we can examine what effect these projects have on biodiversity.”

In response, a team of faculty members from the CALS Soil Science, Entomology and Plant Biology departments took on the task of performing a one-point survey addressing biodiversity of plants, terrestrial and aquatic insects, and water quality at the site. 

The survey revealed an abundance of insect species, including more than 1000 morphospecies and 26 species of ants.  The team was excited by the discovery of a rare wasp in the family Mymarommatidae – the first record of this family to be found in North Carolina. Unique species were identified in each of the four pond environments, an unexpected finding for ponds in such close proximity. Nutrients and fecal levels were low and did not compromise water quality, despite the presence of a large number of geese. 

The team recommended further studies to assess sustainability and overall insect biodiversity, including comparisons to surrounding properties and resampling over successive years. To increase diversity, they recommended that property managers allow the forested portion of property to return to its climax condition, increase scope and diversity of plantings in the managed portion of the property and establish brush piles, rock piles and other sources of cover for birds, insects and other creatures.

The project inspired the Clayton facility leadership to seek additional collaboration with N.C. State faculty and students, including testing of carbon consumption and possible work with a landscape design class to develop plantings that promote biodiversity. They plan to work to further increase biodiversity and to establish the Clayton Development and Training Center as the first carbon neutral or carbon negative development site in the United States.