Research

During 2009, I was a GlaxoSmithKline Faculty Fellow at the North Carolina State University Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI).  In July 2010, I was a Lone Mountain Fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, MT.  During Fall and Spring 2012, I was on sabbatical at the University of Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne) and at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.  In Spring 2012, I also became the 3rd Frederick J. Clarke Fellow at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources (IWR), which is meant to involve and attract external faculty in the Corps’ work on improving water resources across the United States.

Currently – during Summer/Fall 2016 – I will be on sabbatical as an honorary visiting professor at University College-London’s Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis.

On this page, you’ll find some information on my past and present research projects.

Current Research

Saltwater Intrusion in North Carolina’s Coastal Plain (Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula)

Climate change is transforming the outer edge of the Southern US coastal plain. Lower-lying parts of this region, characterized by extensive freshwater-dependent ecosystems, will be largely inundated by gradual sea level rise by the end of this century. In the interim, however, ocean waters are already penetrating and influencing freshwater-dependent coastal landscapes due to a combination of human and natural factors. This landward movement of salinity from the coast onto the coastal plain or “saltwater intrusion” represents the leading edge of climate change for many coastal landscapes.   The salinization of surface waters and adjacent lands may lead to significant reductions in crop and timber yields in managed ecosystems, significant declines in ecosystem carbon sequestration in unmanaged ecosystems, and degradation of coastal water quality due to extraction of soil nutrients by seasalts.  As this region and similar regions worldwide transform in response to and, indeed, in advance of rising seas, the sustainability of these coastal landscapes, now and for decades to come, hinges largely on a sophisticated understanding of the coupled human and natural processes influencing salinization of surface waters and adjacent lands.  This project focuses specifically on saltwater intrusion across the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula of North Carolina, and it will accomplish the 3 primary goals. First, the project will provide a comprehensive toolset to enable place-based, system-level understanding of coastal systems at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Second, it will yield outcomes with predictive value in coastal systems that are easily understood by stakeholders while representing complex interactions between climate, hydrology, land use, and ecological processes. Third, by focusing on how information influences individual preferences, the project will identify pathways by which outcomes could be used to enhance coastal sustainability.  Together, these activities will help guide sustainable management of this region and similarly affected regions over the next several decades to centuries.

Technical Description

This project will bring together investigators from four major NC universities (NCSU, Duke, UNC, ECU) and four disciplines (hydrology, biogeochemistry, community ecology, regional planning) working to integrate social, hydrological, climate and ecological data into model scenarios to examine not only how human decisions affect ecosystems but also how information about those ecological impacts in turn affect human decisions.  This project will facilitate development, validation and refinement of a saltwater intrusion vulnerability index (SIVI) for the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula of North Carolina that accounts for physical environmental processes influencing the movement of water and solutes across the landscape as well as the extensive networks of canals, ditches, roads and pump stations that fundamentally alter the flow of water across the region.  The index will be used, along with extensive and repeated ground-based surveys of surface water, soil and vegetation conditions across a range of vulnerable landscapes within the region, to better understand ecological impacts of saltwater intrusion.  Through workshops and surveys for landowners, managers and other stakeholders in the region, the project will reveal the likely impact of land-use decisions on saltwater intrusion under scenarios of climate change.  Broader impacts include building and engaging a coalition of expert stakeholders who will help investigators define the current status of coastal ecosystems and develop and explore future land use and climate scenarios. Annual workshops will provide primary data as input to land use and salt-water intrusion vulnerability models while simultaneously offering opportunities to share new findings and to redirect research efforts towards critical knowledge gaps identified by stakeholders.  The project will also train 4 PhD students in interdisciplinary research that spans natural and social sciences, and it will engage multiple undergraduate students in mentored research experiences. Finally, the project will broaden participation of underrepresented groups in the sciences by advancing the careers of two early career investigators that are members of underrepresented groups and by working to recruit students from underrepresented groups.

Improving lesser prairie chicken protection efforts (and the future of ESA protection generally…)

In october 2013, the UNC Institute for the Environment began collaborative efforts to produce a series of technical and policy evaluations of proposed conservation actions designed to protect the lesser prairie chicken (LPC), a species that may soon be listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act.  As a listing determination is to be made rapidly (March 2014), the UNC Institute for the Environment has endeavored to review the best available science and policy options to aid decision making around the LPC’s management.

Our work first involved evaluations of the design and conservation utility of the proposed range-wide plan (RWP) developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).  Accompanying this has been work evaluating the stock vs. flow nature of LPC habitat, which highlights several issues with the design of several habitat offset markets associated with the LPC, as well as a study finding several key issues with efforts to offset ‘temporary impacts’ to LPC habitat, as well as manage the delays inherent in restoring LPC habitat (this white paper also discusses the issue of liability transfers in the landscape),  Further work will perform more extensive evaluations of 2) a habitat market mechanism developed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) called the “Habitat Credit Exchange (HCEX),” and 2) the potential effectiveness of a wide-scale application of conservation banking, which has been used for endangered species conservation for nearly a Decade across the United States.

  • Funded by the UNC Institute for the Environment
  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. and Sierra Woodruff*.  2014.  Moving targets and biodiversity offsets for Endangered Species Habitat: Is Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat a Stock or a Flow?  Sustainability 6(3), 1250-1259 | LINK (Free – Open Access)
  • Additional work resulted in federal comments: BenDor, Todd K. and Sierra Woodruff*.  2014.  Comments on the temporary/permanent nature of LPC habitat impacts.  Formal comments submitted to federal rulemaking (FWS–R2–ES–2012–0071; 4500030113) by USFWS, “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as a Threatened Species With a Special Rule” (50 CFR Part 17).
  • BenDor, Todd K. and Sierra Woodruff*.  2014.  Comments on the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan.  Formal comments submitted to federal rulemaking (FWS–R2–ES–2012–0071; 4500030113) by USFWS, “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as a Threatened Species With a Special Rule” (50 CFR Part 17).
  • BenDor, Todd K.  2014.  Identifying and Controlling Ecological Risks within a Temporary Mitigation Program for the Lesser Prairie Chicken.  Analysis submitted to USFWS regarding American Habitat Center Habitat Credit Exchange.

Estimating the size and impact of the “Restoration Economy”

For decades, industry groups and the American media have propagated the notion that environmental protection is bad for business.  What has been almost entirely missing from this public debate is a detailed accounting of the economic output and jobs in the United States that are actually created through environmental conservation, restoration, and mitigation actions – the activities that are part of what we will call the “Restoration Economy.”  A growing body of evidence suggests the presence of a restoration and mitigation industry that not only protects public environmental goods, but also contributes to national economic growth and employment, supporting as many as 33 jobs per $1 million invested, with an employment multiplier of between 1.5 and 3.8 (the number of jobs created for every restoration job) and an output multiplier of between 1.6-2.6 (multiplier for total economic output from investments).

In this project, we review the literature in this area, including 14 local and state-level case studies of environmental restoration projects.  Restoration investments lead to significant positive economic and employment impacts, and appear to have particularly localized benefits, which can be attributed to the tendency for projects to employ local labor and materials.  While these figures are promising, we do not yet understand the extent of environmental restoration activities and benefits at a national level. In order to estimate the total number of jobs and total value of economic activity generated on an annual basis by the restoration industry, we are currently conducting a survey of businesses that contract for and participate in restoration work.  The results of the survey will produce an estimate of the total sales and number of jobs associated with the national Restoration Economy, shining light on the larger economic role of private and public investments in environmental conservation, restoration, and mitigation.

Regional simulation modeling of urban growth
Rapid urban growth in North Carolina has had substantial effects on the natural environment, particularly water quality and other stormwater issues.  In this project, we created a simulation model of urban growth for the purpose of assessing the effects of land use change in the Jordan Lake Watershed of North Carolina.  Jordan Lake is a nutrient enriched water body that is now the subject of special development and water quality rules under North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

  • Published as: Westervelt, James, Todd K. BenDor, and Joseph O. Sexton.  2011.  A Technique for Rapidly Assessing Regional Scale Urban Growth. Environment and Planning: B 38(1):61-81 | LINK.
  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. James Westervelt, and Yan Song.  2013.  Creating Urban Recreational Open Space through Political Feedback: Integration into a Large-Scale Regional Land Use Change Model.  Land Use Policy 30(1):1-12 | LINK.

Effects of federal policy on mitigation banker decision making and market entry
This project aims to better understand how and why mitigation bankers enter ecosystem service markets, and how these decisions are associated with the resulting extent of wetland bank implementation (sizes), local land markets, land values, and long-term restoration ecosystem viability.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. and Martin Doyle.  2010.  Planning for Ecosystem Service Markets.  Journal of the American Planning Association 76(1):59-72 | LINK
  • BenDor, Todd K., Adam Riggsbee, and Martin Doyle.  2011.  Risk and Markets for Ecosystem Services.  Environmental Science and Technology 45(24):10322-10330 | LINK
  • BenDor, Todd K. and Adam Riggsbee. Regulatory and Ecological Risk under Federal Requirements for Compensatory Wetland and Stream Mitigation. Environmental Science and Policy 14:639-649 | LINK
  • BenDor, Todd K. and Adam Riggsbee.  2011.  A survey of entrepreneurial risk in U.S. wetland and stream compensatory mitigation markets.  Environmental Science and Policy 14(3):301-314 | LINK. [Selected as Editor’s Choice in Science“Banking on Wetlands” (29 April, 2011; Science 332: 514)]
  • Funding: UNC University Research Council

Recent Research Projects and Programs

Stream and wetland mitigation
This work explores the spatial and ecological patterns associated with stream and wetland mitigation credit markets (from both mitigation banking and in-lieu fee programs) in both North Carolina and throughout the United States.  In particular, I are interested in the implications for spatial, ecological, social disparity associated created by relocating wetland and stream resources across the landscape due to ecological restoration. My colleagues and I are interested in answering several questions: (1) Are stream and wetland restoration sites being re-located in any discernible pattern across space relative to impact locations? (2) If so, are mitigation sites still able to enhance water quality or reduce potential flood damage in the areas experiencing degradation? (3) What are the potential social implications of private stream degradation, and are restoration projects adequately compensating for localized loss of aquatic resources?  The initial phase of this research has focused on the state-run North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program.  Further research has since moved towards emerging and past private mitigation bank markets.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K., Joel Sholtes, Martin Doyle.  Landscape Characteristics of a Stream and Wetland Mitigation Banking Program.  Ecological Applications 19(8): 2078-2092. | LINK
  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. and Martin Doyle.  Planning for Ecosystem Service Markets.  Journal of the American Planning Association 76(1):59-72 | LINK.
  • Funding: UNC Institute for the Environment

Forest persistence in urban regions
Despite the vital services that remnant natural lands in urbanizing areas provide society, surprisingly little is known about the complex socio-ecological factors influencing the persistence of forests and farms in areas of rapid population growth. Is it possible for natural and developed lands to coexist in a setting of rapid growth or are they mutually exclusive? This research examines the complex interactions between people and the environment to find ways that allow natural landscapes to remain functional in a rapidly urbanizing region. This project focuses on processes affecting the persistence of forest landscapes in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is a rapidly growing metropolitan region that sits in the middle of the “Charlanta” megalopolis, the 3rd largest mega-region in the U.S. The research constructs and validates a framework to connect societal and ecological factors that influence persistence and quality of forest.  Here, we will use hierarchicalstructural equation modeling, augmented by interviews, choice experiments, ecological measurement, visual analytics, and GIS/remote sensing in the Charlotte metropolitan region as a case study of fast growing urban regions in the developed world. These empirical results will inform a spatially-explicit agent-based model that explores alternative futures of urban growth and dynamic interactions between people and environment based on changes in policy, cultural values, and economic drivers, at local, regional and national scales.

Military growth in Eastern North Carolina
Military-induced growth in eastern North Carolina will cause several small coastal towns to expand by over 60,000 residents.  This growth will have substantial effects on the provision of urban infrastructure (e.g. sewer, roads, schools, etc.) and future development patterns.  This project has been aimed at assessing pertinent issues to planners in the region, as well as recommending urban growth simulation tools that fit community needs.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K., Philip Berke, Dave Salvesen, Yan Song, and Nora Lenahan.  2011.  Assessing Local Government Capacity to Manage and Model Military-Induced Growth in Eastern North Carolina.  Planning Practice and Research 26(5):531-553 | LINK
  • Funding: SERPPAS

Urban recreational open space creation
This project integrates the creation of new recreational open space into a regional land use change model based on political feedback between growing populations and the dedication of land for open space purposes.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. James Westervelt, and Yan Song.  2013.  Creating Urban Recreational Open Space through Political Feedback: Integration into a Large-Scale Regional Land Use Change Model.  Land Use Policy 30(1):1-12 | LINK.

Habitat fragmentation
This project was aimed at assessing how urban growth can fragment habitat, isolate species sub-populations, and potentially limit the viability of future wildlife populations.  To do this, we assessed the potential impacts of urban growth in Columbia, Georgia on the fragmentation of Gopher Tortoise habitat near Fort Benning, a major military installation that contains large habitat areas for this threatened species. This study implemented a spatially explicit system dynamics model (created in NetLogo) to determine how new urban development alters or destroys the pathways that genetically connect local tortoise populations in groups of small habitat patches. The model then tracked the resulting population dynamics to determine the extent that  the new, local meta-populations mixed as individuals moved and bred across the landscape. Original funding for this project came from the Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. Jim Westervelt, J.P. Aurambout, and William Meyer.  2009.  Simulating Population Variation and Movement within Fragmented Landscapes: A Spatial Dynamic Model of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).  Ecological Modelling 220: 867-878 | LINK
  • Funding: Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center

Developer decision-making in wetland mitigation
Under U.S. regulations, developers often have a choice regarding how and where they choose to restore or create wetlands as compensatory mitigation. This project aims to better understand how these decisions are made, specifically how they are correlated with the extent of wetland impacts (sizes), local land markets, and the structure and function of local wetland mitigation bank markets.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. and Nicholas Brozovic.  2007.  Determinants of Spatial and Temporal Patterns in Compensatory Wetland Mitigation.  Environmental Management 40(3):349-364 | LINK
  • Funding: UNC University Research Council

Dynamic effects of wetland mitigation on no-net loss
This project was aimed at understanding the aggregate effects of dynamic lags within the wetland mitigation process. Since 1987, U.S. wetland mitigation policy has intended to maintain a ‘no net loss’ of wetland acreage. Regulations currently do not explicitly acknowledge that functional restoration is delayed by lags in initiating and completing ecological community establishment. This study demonstrated that the compounding effects of small wetland losses can cause high levels of persistent net loss, even in landscapes where restoration projects appear to increase the total wetland acreage and function in the region.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K.  2009.  A Dynamic Analysis of the Wetland Mitigation Process and Its Effects on No Net Loss Policy.  Landscape and Urban Planning 89: 17-27. | LINK

Agent-based fisheries modeling
Many fisheries around the world have experienced rapid degradation due to overfishing.  However, fish population crashes are not only devastating to ecological systems, they can also wreak havoc on the small, renewable resource economies often found in coastal fishing villages.  This project involved a series of studies implementing an agent-based, dynamic game model of fisher competition.  With colleagues, I have also begun to assemble a dataset for several Lake Michigan fisheries to extend this model in order to better understand how fishing-centered economies can better manage fish populations and avoid population crashes.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K., Jurgen Scheffran, and Bruce M. Hannon.  2009.  Ecological and Economic Sustainability in Fishery Management: A Multi-Agent Model for Understanding Competition and Cooperation.  Ecological Economics 68(4): 1061-1073. | LINK

Modeling biofuel introduction and conflict
This study simulated the agricultural land use changes likely to occur when introducing bioenergy crops into the Illinois landscape.  Illinois’ north-south orientation creates a heterogeneous growing environment, changing the ability of farmers to profit off certain crops in certain areas.  This fact could potentially hinder the successful introduction of biomass crops.  Here, we created a dynamic, spatially-explicit, agent-based model of agricultural land use in order to better understand the process of introducing miscanthus and switchgrass into a state currently dominated by corn and soybean agriculture.  We were particularly interested in the demand and subsidy structure necessary to help farmers transition to the new crops.  We were also interested in determining the capacity for biomass crop growth in Illinois.

  • Published as: Scheffran, Jurgen, Todd K. BenDor, and Bruce M. Hannon.  2009.  Bioenergy and Land Use: A Spatial-Agent Dynamic Model of Energy Crop Production in Illinois.  International Journal of Environment and Pollution 39(1/2): 4-27. | LINK

Emerald Ash Borer spread
This set of studies simulated at the impacts of the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive Asian beetle introduced into Southeastern Michigan in the late-1990s.  Many authorities have likened the Borer’s capability of damaging the North American Ash tree population to that of Dutch elm disease.  This study implemented a spatial dynamic model to track the spread of the borer during a hypothetical introduction into DuPage County, Illinois.  Here, we looked at both the impacts of land use change and movement of infested firewood on the capability of the borer to spread.

  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K., Sara S. Metcalf, Lauren E. Fontenot, and Brandi Sangunett.  2006.  Modeling the Emerald Ash Borer Spread: A Decision Support System for Invasive Species Eradication.  Ecological Modelling, 197: 221-236. | LINK
  • Published as: BenDor, Todd K. and Sara S. Metcalf.  2006.  The Spatial Dynamics of Invasive Species Spread.  System Dynamics Review, 22(1): 27-50. | LINK