The SERDP Ecosystem Management Program (SEMP) was initiated as a result of the 1997 SERDP Ecosystem Workshop, which identified some of the critical knowledge gaps in understanding and managing ecosystem status, especially as they relate to military land management concerns.  The primary themes that emerged from the workshop included: (1) ecosystem health or change indicators, (2) thresholds of disturbance, (3) biogeochemical cycles and processes, and (4) ecosystem processes as they related to multiple temporal and spatial scales. SEMP was designed to develop and demonstrate ecosystem-based management and monitoring tools and techniques that address these knowledge gaps and inform land management for sustained military training and testing.

Specific SEMP objectives included: (1) establishing one or more study sites on Department of Defense (DoD) facilities for long-term ecosystem monitoring, (2) pursuing ecosystem research activities relevant to sustaining DoD mission capabilities, (3) conducting multiple ecosystem research and monitoring efforts relevant to the requirements of installations across the southeastern United States, (4) facilitating the integration of results and findings of research into DoD ecosystem-based management practices, and (5) providing a platform for broader ecosystem research.

Technical Approach

Fort Benning, Georgia was selected as the host installation for SEMP for both monitoring and research activities. Under the first phase of SEMP, SERDP funded five studies focused on (1) identifying ecological indicators that reflected training-caused disturbance and (2) characterizing state-transition thresholds that could be attributed to combined training and land management impacts. The technical approach for each of the five projects can be ascertained from their respective final reports. Annual SEMP Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings were held to provide oversight to ensure that the projects were progressing towards their research goals and aligning with overall SEMP objectives and to provide TAC members a better understanding of Fort Benning’s land management needs and challenges.

After completion of SEMP’s first phase, a thorough program assessment was conducted. The approach to SEMP’s second phase was modified accordingly to address the concerns arising from Phase 1, namely improving coordination among projects and better scoping the research needed to address land management priorities. The SEMP Integration Project was completed in response to this program assessment and integrates the results of the five Phase 1 studies.

Another change to SEMP as a result of this assessment was that newly funded studies would be managed independently by the Principal Investigators (PI), and the SERDP Technical Committee would work in concert with the SEMP PI to ensure research coordination and land management relevancy. Five additional studies were funded at Fort Benning in support of SEMP. Additional information on those projects can be found on their individual project web pages on the SERDP/ESTCP public website. Those projects are listed below.

RC-1186: Riparian Ecosystem Management at Military Installations – Determination of Impacts and Restoration and Enhancement Strategies

RC-1302: Impacts of Military Training and Land Management on Threatened and Endangered Species in the Southeastern Fall Line/Sandhills Community

RC-1303: Regenerating Longleaf Pine on Hydric Soils – Short- and Long-Term Effects on Native Ground-Layer Vegetation

RC-1462: Developing a Spatially Distributed Terrestrial Biogeochemical Cycle Modeling System to Support the Management of Fort Benning and its Surrounding Areas

RC-1547: Development of a Watershed Modeling System for Fort Benning Using the USEPA BASINS Framework


SEMP research has made significant advances in the science of ecosystem-based management, particularly in the areas of indicators of change, disturbance thresholds, sustainable watersheds, and sustainable forest habitats. The results of SEMP research have helped Fort Benning and other southeastern US installations improve (a) Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMP), (b) installation sustainability planning and monitoring at various scales, (c) red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW; Picoides borealis) recovery efforts, (d) longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) matrix habitat assessment and restoration, and (e) development of land-management decision-making tools. 

SEMP produced two key land management documents that resulted from the completed research. The first was a framework and associated strategies for determining reference conditions for streams with legacy sediments on military installations. The second was a site comparison index of ecological indicators to assist land managers in assessing and monitoring ecological processes and forest condition. Both products are available for download on the SERDP/ESTCP public website.

Each SEMP project also produced a Final Report that captures the results of the research and discusses the relevancy to ecosystem-based management. All individual SEMP project Final Reports are available on the SERDP/ESTCP public website as well as well as a synthesis and major findings report that looks across the SEMP funded efforts. Finally, also posted on the website are reports that document the SEMP approach and the SEMP integration effort.

The extent of SEMP’s research accomplishments is evidenced by the publication record in professional journals, textbooks, and technical reports. Overall, SEMP is responsible for over 50 professional journal articles, a handful of textbook chapters, and over 25 technical reports.  In addition, more than a dozen students earned their master's degrees and PhDs through their involvement with SEMP research.