Students standing with rainfall simulator

Jacob Fowlkes, John Fletcher, Dr. Patrick Hiesl, Johnny Capps (in the back), Jonathan Cantrell, Micah Chinnis (in the background), William Ridlehuber, Lawton Stalvey.

Clemson, SC—A team of Clemson University students is leading a research project that could reduce the prevalence of invasive species in forests and change how timber producers and civil engineers control erosion.

The team has created a rainfall simulator that will allow them to test the ability of native plants to stabilize exposed soil and prevent runoff and erosion.

The goal is to reduce the number of invasive plant species being distributed by forest operations, aid in soil stabilization, and assist with erosion and runoff prevention.

The student researchers began the rainfall simulator project last fall. The project began with Johnny Capps, senior forest resource management major from Seneca, and Jacob Fowlkes, senior environmental engineering major from Gaffney.

The students have been working under assistant professor of forest operations Patrick Hiesl to design and construct the simulator.

Under the guidance of Hiesl and assistant professor of forest ecology Donald Hagan, they will use the simulator to test different grass and herb species on their potential for erosion control, so they can create guidelines for stabilizing soils using native grasses and herbs, or less-invasive vegetation than is currently recommended in several Best Management Practices (BMP) guidelines across the southeastern U.S.

“The building of the rainfall simulator opens up endless possibilities and research opportunities for our team,” Capps said.

The research team has grown to eight students, all working to fine tune the simulator and test different grass and herb species.

Team members include: Fowlkes and Capps; Thomas Beadie, senior environmental and natural resources major from Greer; Jonathan Cantrell, senior forest resource management major from Johnston, S.C.; Micah Chinnis, junior environmental and natural resources major from Ladson, S.C.; Steven Fletcher, sophomore forest resource management major from Candler, N.C.; William Ridlehuber, senior forest resource management major from Spartanburg; and Lawton Stalvey, sophomore environmental and natural resource major from Charleston.

Rainfall simulator

The rainfall simulator will test plants for their erosion control properties.

Hiesl said the project will benefit foresters, landowners and the overall environment by collecting data that will help reduce the use of invasive species that then aggressively take over forests and cause headaches for timber managers.

“Ultimately we believe that our recommendations can be used to update the BMP guidelines in South Carolina and the Southeastern U.S.,” Hiesl said.

“We plan to expand our rainfall simulator testing to forest roads to see the effectiveness of our plants,” Fowlkes said.

The student research project is part of the Clemson University Creative Inquiry Program. The Creative Inquiry Program is an interactive, team-based research program that allows students to explore and challenge problems or inquires in a variety of disciplines. Generally, a year long, students design, manage and execute these projects under a faculty advisor. Beginning in 2005, it has since fostered more than 1,000 research projects and has supported over 34,000 students.