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2009 AAG Professional Presentation
How do rural land uses, and land use conversions, influence biodiversity and the biotic landscape of the Southern Appalachians? Across the Southern Appalachians, rural environments are undergoing dramatic land use change. A common trend is the conversion of agricultural land to exurban development. However, organic farming is also an increasingly popular alternative land use to conventional agricultural production. We examined landscape structure, habitat and plant diversity in a rural mountain setting in western North Carolina at multiple spatial scales. Specifically, we compared two differing land uses, organic agriculture (4 farms) and exurban development (4 subdivisions), at the landscape, site, and habitat scales. At the landscape (4 squared-km sampling window) and site scales, we delineated discrete habitat patches in ArcGIS, by on-screen digitizing of 6-inch resolution aerial photography. Patches were classified into 8 land use categories (built, paved, crop fields, water, riparian, forested, field/woodlot, and shrub). Landscape- and site-level patch structure and composition were analyzed using Patch Analyst to compare the land uses, and patch heterogeneity, size, connectivity and diversity of farms and subdivisions. At the habitat scale, we documented plant species composition and cover in 100 squared-meter plots within each habitat patch. We compared plant species composition and diversity among patch types and between farms and subdivisions. By combining GIS analysis with field data collection, this research provides an understanding of how rural land use affects biotic diversity.