Dr. Fred Benfield

Biological Sciences

Dr. Fred Benfield is Professor of Ecology and Associate Head in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech. His research has focused on biodiversity and ecosystem level functional responses of southern Appalachian streams to historical and contemporary disturbances in the landscape. He has concentrated on watershed disturbance created by logging and agriculture and, more recently, by urbanization of agricultural lands.

Dr. Benfield has collaborated with Drs. Jack Webster and Maury Valett, as members of the “VT Stream Team”, on research ranging from a 30 year project following recovery of a stream whose watershed was clear-cut in 1975, to a present study of stream responses to watershed logging operations. He collaborates with scientists associated with the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory NSF-sponsored Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) site in western North Carolina on a project that seeks to predict how southern Appalachian ecosystems will respond to development over the period 2000-2030. He and Dr. Valett also explored the importance of ecosystems services provided by freshwater mussel beds in streams of western Virginia.


The Virginia Tech Stream Team, now known as the Ecosystem Research Group, is a collaboration of professors and students in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech who are studying various aspects of ecosystem ecology. The Group collaborates with each other, and with other University units and with other institutions. Within the university, they have had collaborations with faculty in Forestry, Geology, Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation, Agricultural Economics, Civil Engineering, Biological Systems Engineering, and Entomology.

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Recent Relevant Publications

Wyderko, Jennie A., Benfield, Ernest F., Maerz, John C., Cecala, Kristen K., Belden, Lisa K. (2015) Variable infection of stream salamanders in the southern Appalachians by the trematode Metagonimoides oregonensis (family: Heterophyidae). Parasitol Research, 114:3159-3165. DOI 10.1007/s00436-015-4550-8

Northington, R.M., Webster, J.R., Benfield, E.F., Cheever, B.M. and Niederlehner, B. 2013. Ecosystem function in Appalachian headwater streams during an active invasion by the hemlock woolly adelgid. PLoS ONE. 8(4):e61171. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061171)

Belden, Lisa K., William E. Peterman, Stephen A. Smith, Lauren R. Brooks, E.F. Benfield, Wesley P. Black, Zhaomin Yang and Jeremy M. Wojdak. 2012. Metagonimoides oregonensis (Heterophyidae: Digenea) Infection In Pleurocerid Snails and Desmognathus quadramaculatus Salamander Larvae In Southern Appalachian Streams. Journal of Parasitology 98(4):760-767.

Webster, J.R., K. Morkenski, C.A. Wojculewski, B.R. Niederlehner, E.F. Benefield and K.J. Elliott (2012). Effects of Hemlock Mortality on Streams in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Midland American Naturalist: An International Journal of Ecology, Evolution and Environment. 168:112-131.

Webster, J.R., K. Moreski, C.A. Wojculewski, E.F. Benfield, K.J. Elliott. 2012. Effects of hemlock mortality on streams in the southern Appalachian mountains. American Midland Naturalist 168:112-131.

Sokol ER, Benfield EF, Belden LK, Valett HM (2011) The assembly of ecological communities inferred from taxonomic and functional composition. The American Naturalist 177(5): 630-644. doi:10.1086/659625

Hagen, Elizabeth M. Matthew E. McTammany, Jackson R. Webster, Ernest F. Benfield. 2010. Shifts in allochthonous input and autochthonous production in streams along an agricultural land-use gradient. Hydrobiologia. 655(1):61-77.

Simon, K., Simon, M., Benfield, E. 2009. Variation in ecosystem function in Appalachian streams along an acidity gradient. The Ecological Society of America, 19(5): 1147-1160

Burcher, C.L., M.E. McTammany, E.F. Benfield, and G.S. Helfman. 2008. Fish assemblages responses to forest cover.  Environmental Management. 41: 336-346.

Gardiner, N., Sutherland, A. B., Bixby, R. J., Scott, M. C., Meyer, J. L, Helfman, G. S., Benfield, E. F., Pringle, C. M., Bolstad, C. M., and D. N. Wear. 2008. Linking stream and landscape trajectories in the southern Appalachians. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 156(1-4):17-36.

McTammany, M.E., E.F. Benfield, and J.R. Webster. 2008. Effects of agriculture on wood breakdown and microbial biofilm respiration in southern Appalachian streams. Freshwater Biology. 53: 842-854.

Burcher, C.L., H.M. Valett, and E.F. Benfield. 2007. The land-cover cascade: Relationships coupling land and water. Ecology. 88(1): 228-242.

McTammany, M.E., E.F. Benfield, and J.R. Webster. 2007. Recovery of stream ecosystem metabolism from historical agriculture. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 26(3): 532-545.

Burcher, C.L., and E.F. Benfield. 2006. Physical and biological responses of streams to suburbanization of historically agriculture watersheds. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 25(2): 356-369.

Hagen, E.M., J.R. Webster, and E.F. Benfield. 2006. Are leaf breakdown rates a useful measure of stream integrity along an agricultural landuse gradient? Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 25(2): 330-343.

Neatrour, M.A., J.R. Webster, and E.F. Benfield. 2004. The role of floods in particulate organic matter dynamics of a southern Appalachian river-floodplain ecosystem. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 23(2): 198-213.

McTammany, M.E., J.R. Webster, E.F. Benfield, and M.A. Neatrour. 2003. Longitudinal patterns of metabolism in a southern Appalachian river. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 22(3): 359-370.

Scott, M.C., G.S. Helfman, M.E. McTammany, E.F. Benfield, and P.V. Bolstad. 2002. Multiscale influences on physical and chemical stream conditions across Blue Ridge landscapes. Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 38(5): 1379-1392.

Benfield, E.F., J.R. Webster, J.L. Tank, and J.J.Hutchens. 2001. Long-Term Patterns in Leaf Breakdown in Streams in Response to Watershed Logging. International Review of Hydrobiology. 86(4-5): 467-474.

Sponseller, R.A., and E.F. Benfield. 2001. Influences of land use on leaf breakdown in southern Appalachian headwater streams: a multiple-scale analysis. Journal North American Benthological Society. 20(1): 44-59

Sponseller, R.A., E.F. Benfield, and H.M. Valett. 2001. Relationships between land use, spatial scale and stream macroinvertebrate communities. Freshwater Biology. 46(10): 1409-1424.

Webster, J.R., E.F. Benfield, J.J. Hutchens, J.L. Tank, S.W. Golladay, and J.C. Adams. 2001. Do Leaf Breakdown Rates Actually Measure Leaf Disappearance from Streams? International Review of Hydrobiology. 86(4-5): 417-427.

Benfield, E.F., J.R. Webster, J.J. Hutchens, J.L. Tank, and P.A. Turner. 2000. Organic matter dynamics along a streaorder and elevational gradient in a southern Appalachian stream. Verhandlungen International Vereinigung Limnologie. 27:1341-1345.

Hutchens, J.J. Jr., and E.F. Benfield. 2000. Effects of Forest Defoliation by the Gypsy Moth on Detritus Processing in Southern Appalachian Streams. The American Midland Naturalist. 143: 397-404.

Webster, J.R., E.F. Benfield, T.P. Ehrman, M.A. Schaeffer, J.L. Tank, J.J. Hutchens, and D.J. D’angelo. 1999. What happens to allochthonous material that falls into streams? A synthesis of new and published information from Coweeta. Freshwater Biology. 41(4): 687-705.

Harding, J.S., E.F. Benfield, P.V. Bolstad, G.S. Helfman, and E.B.D Jones III. 1998. Stream biodiversity: The ghost of land use past. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 95: 14843-14847.