UGA Researcher Sharitz Earns National Wetlands Award

Rebecca Sharitz, a researcher at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, received the National Wetlands Award for Science Research at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on May 19. She was chosen for her expertise on southeastern floodplain forests and Carolina bays and substantial contributions to wetland science.

The award is one of six 2010 National Wetlands Awards given by the Environmental Law Institute with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, and the George and Miriam Martin Foundation.

“I consider this a tremendous honor,” said Sharitz on receiving the award, “and I accept it not only for myself, but for the great group of graduate students and research assistants who have worked with me over the years.”

Her research was the first to show a link between flooding characteristics and forest regeneration ─ an important finding to understand how southeastern floodplain forests react after experiencing hurricanes, alteration from dams, and discharge of thermally hot waters from nuclear reactors.

“(Dr. Sharitz’s work) advanced wetland science by addressing the ecological dynamics of southern floodplain forests, in contrast to a prevailing emphasis on forest silviculture,” said Diane De Steven, Research Wetland ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. She added, “Importantly, the work called attention to the ecological significance of dam construction and river regulation in altering important floodplain forest processes.”

In addition to her work on floodplain forests, Sharitz is an expert on the Carolina bays—isolated wetlands that occur in low-lying areas in the landscape. Her research shows that Carolina bays have the greatest variety of plant seeds in the soil of any wetland type and that passive restoration ─ blocking drainage ditches ─ has proven to be an effective method to restore wetland vegetation and undo the damage caused by past efforts to dry these wetlands out.

“I’ve been very pleased to see that there is now increasing concern about timing and magnitude of flood events in managing southeastern rivers,” said Sharitz, whose research has spanned four decades. “What keeps me interested is the constant sense of discovery when I am in wetland ecosystems: their variability, their constant changes, and their simple beauty.”