Ecosystem and climate consequences of forest community change

Predicting how forests change

Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Forests in the United States are currently experiencing rapid change due to human activities such as fire suppression, nitrogen pollution, invasive species, and climate change. While it is well-known that such changes affect the organisms that inhabit the forest, the degree to which such changes affect how forests function is largely unknown.

Forests perform many functions, perhaps none more critical than retaining nutrients and exchanging greenhouse gases with the atmosphere. As such, changing forest composition has the potential to affect both air and water quality and feedbacks to the climate system. However, researchers do not yet know whether those changes will be positive or negative for the planet.

The overarching goal of this project is to advance a predictive framework for understanding the consequences of forest community change for key features of forest function. We will use a combination of field studies, environmental chamber experiments, and mathematical models to investigate how tree species and their associated soil microorganisms determine forest functioning, sensitivity to future changes, and feedbacks to climate. Collectively, our interdisciplinary research team will train future leaders in the environmental sciences, and convey critical information to natural resource practitioners, policymakers, land owners, and concerned citizens.