Date of Award

Winter 12-22-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Fridley, Jason D

Subject Categories

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Environmental Sciences | Life Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Climate is highly variable at scales that are not captured by most weather and climate models due to local effects of topography and living systems. This variation in microclimate has been noted for many decades but has been difficult to incorporate into quantitative understanding of ecological systems and processes due to the large amount of data and complex models required to adequately describe fine-scale patterns across complex landscapes. In recent years, models of thermal microclimate variation have been developed using low-cost temperature sensors, but few of these models have been used to predict the effects of microclimatic variation on ecological processes and patterns such as species distributions. In addition, no similar low-cost tools have been commercialized for soil moisture measurements, limiting the ability of microclimate models to fully describe the conditions experienced by organisms. In Chapter 1, I compare species distribution models for the plants of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) generated using broad-scale climate drivers to those generated using an existing thermal microclimate model. While model fit was similar, microclimate projections of future suitable habitat under climate change were very different from macroclimate projections, highlighting the need to consider local buffering of climate when planning for the future. In Chapter 2, I develop, test, and deploy new low-cost soil moisture sensors across GSMNP and describe the effects of topographic, vegetation, and weather-related drivers on soil moisture. Local variation in moisture was high and was not fully explained by the gradient of precipitation or other proxies for moisture availability across the Park, indicating that better models are needed to describe the moisture available to organisms across the landscape. Together, these results demonstrate the need to consider the effects of microclimate on ecological systems and provide new tools for understanding multiple axes of microclimatic variation.


Open Access



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