Elizabeth Summers

M.S. Candidate








Tennessee as well as many other states has experienced significant losses of wetlands.  By the 1980s, over 59 percent of the 2 million acres of wetlands historically found in Tennessee had been converted to other uses (Johnson 2007).  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is attempting to restore previously degraded wetlands through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).  This voluntary program offers landowners financial and technical assistance in restoring and enhancing wetlands on their properties.  In Tennessee, most WRP easements are located in western Tennessee, and exist in floodplains associated with tributaries of the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers.  The primary restoration technique for these bottomland sites is replanting with hardwood seedlings.  The goal of WRP is to restore the ecological function of wetlands to pre-agricultural disturbance.  Despite the establishment of WRP over 15 years ago, plant and animal communities at sites are measured and compared infrequently to reference areas to determine the extent of ecological restoration.  Moreover, to date, no standard methods have been developed for WRP to monitor ecological restoration at hardwood bottomland sites.

Biological assessments (bioassessments) are a useful approach to evaluating the state of ecological function in an ecosystem.  In this study, I am sampling avian, amphibian and vegetation communities along with various abiotic variables (e.g., microclimate, soil characteristics, hydrology) to build a suite of IBI bioassessment models using data collected from 17 WRP easements and 4 reference sites in western Tennessee.  Bottomland restoration sites range in age from 2 – 20 years, and acreage varies from small (<10 ha) to large (>100 ha).  Reference sites are located along the Hatchie River watershed, which is the longest unchannelized tributary of the lower Mississippi River (The Nature Conservancy 2007).  In addition to IBI models, I will evaluate the effectiveness of hydrogeomorphic (HGM) wetland bioassessment (Brinson 1993).


The objectives of my study are:


1)    Quantify and compare abiotic variables (e.g., microclimate, soil characteristics, hydrology) and vegetation, amphibian and avian communities between WRP and reference sites. 


2)    Develop index of biological integrity (IBI) models that quantify ecological function on WRP sites.


3)    Compare predictions of biological complexity from previously developed HGM models with field measurements.


4)    Provide standards for monitoring state of ecological restoration at reforested WRP sites. 



Collaborators: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Agricultural Wildlife Conservation Center) and The Nature Conservancy





Brinson, M. M. 1993. A Hydrogeomorphic Classification for Wetlands. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Johnson, J. W. 2007. Rivers Under Siege: The Troubles Saga of West Tennessee Wetlands. University of Tennessee Press.


The Nature Conservancy. 2007. Hatchie River [].




1.     Summers, E. A., and M. J. Gray.  2009.  Developing Models to Monitor Ecological Restoration in Hardwood Bottomlands.  Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Atlanta, GA.  Poster.


2.     Summers, E. A., and M. J. Gray.  2009.  Bird Assemblages at Hardwood Bottomland Restoration Sites in Western Tennessee.  Annual Conference of American Ornithologists’ Union, Philadelphia, PA.  Poster.


3.     Summers, E. A., and M. J. Gray.  2009.  Amphibian and bird assemblages at hardwood bottomland restoration sites in western Tennessee. Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Chapter of The Wildlife Society, Pikeville, TN.  Presentation.






I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology.  During my undergraduate, I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia for nine months.  While there, I assisted the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service with projects such as banding Little Blue Penguins and Sooty Shearwaters.  After graduating, I spent four years as an avian research technician.  During this time, I worked with a variety of species including Willow Flycatchers, Common Loons and Henslow’s Sparrows.  I performed point count surveys and banded birds in the northern Sierras of California and in southwestern Wisconsin oak savannahs and prairies.  I also worked in an avian rehabilitation hospital on the Gulf Coast of Florida. 

In my spare time, I enjoy playing the fiddle, hiking, paddling, cross-country skiing, cooking vegetarian food and practicing yoga.  I love being outdoors and take every opportunity to look for birds, butterflies and other interesting wildlife.   I strongly believe in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, and I am always striving to make improvements in that direction, from reducing energy use to adopting a vegetarian diet.


Contact Information



Phone: 865-974-3897



UT Wetlands Program


UT Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries