The Department's long-term research goals are to:
- Understand the social, physical and biological processes which influence ecosystem goods and services
- Document responses of culture, species, ecosystems, and landscapes to ecosystem disturbances and stressors
- Seek integrated solutions to natural resource problems
These goals are attained through research in the following areas:
Understanding the drivers and responses of human values and behaviors resulting from changes in ecosystems. Use of forested ecosystems for recreation, water, aesthetics and products is central to the work conducted in this area, but our scientists also work in aquatic, urban, and rangeland systems spanning cultures from local to global.
Humans are relative newcomers on the scale of the Earth’s geologic history, yet we have become agents of significant environmental changes within decades to centuries. Global change includes anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants to the atmosphere, and large-scale changes in land cover. These extensive changes have potential consequences for global and regional climate, the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species, and terrestrial ecosystem health. Members of our department are studying the complexities of terrestrial ecosystems and the interactions between ecosystems and the atmosphere. The challenge is to quantify changes in ecosystems and climate, diagnose the causes, and develop predictions of how human activities may affect the global environment and ecosystems in the future so as to inform policy and decision-making on strategies for minimizing impacts on our life-support systems.
Forest Landscape Ecology
Understanding how ecosystems respond at the landscape level is important to managing forests. Members of our department are examining how spatial interactions influence the behavior of forested landscapes utilizing a range of tools such as simulation modeling and scaling, remote sensing, GIS, spatial statistics, and visualization tools such as animation. Current work includes examination of how carbon dynamics vary from a stand to a landscape as well as assessing how forest harvest has and will change carbon sequestration rates. Other work is examining the impact of disturbances such as fire on the historical range of variability of forest age class structure and habitat suitability. Another area of research involves examination of how the relationship of key wildlife species to controlling factors varies from fine to broad (i.e., landscape) scales.
Landscape Dynamics and Disturbance
LARSE - Labratory for Applications of Remote Sensing in Ecology
CLAMS - Coastal Landscape Analysis and Modeling Study
TERRA PNW - Terrestrial Ecosystem Research and Regional Analysis
Forest Landscape Ecology Lab
Systems Complexity and Landscape Ecology Lab
Forest Ecosytem Processes
The study of ecosystem processes includes biogeochemistry, ecophysiology, and micrometeorology, and emphasizes the circulation, transformation, and accumulation of energy and matter in the biosphere, and exchange with the atmosphere and aquatic ecosystems. The exchanges are essential for persistence of ecosystems. Ecosystem studies consider the linkage of structure and function across multiple time and space scales, from seconds (e.g. photosynthesis) to decades (biomass accumulation). Hierarchical studies are common to elucidate mechanisms of response of ecosystem processes to environmental perturbations. Current research in our department examines the coupling of carbon and water at the whole plant level to ecosystem (interaction of soil-vegetation-atmosphere processes). For example, researchers at three AmeriFlux sites in Oregon forests are using eddy covariance measurements to quantify net exchange of carbon dioxide, water vapor and energy with the atmosphere, and automated measurements of soil respiration, sap flux (transpiration), and stable isotopes (13C of whole air, 18O of tissue and soil components) to understand photosynthesis/respiration and transpiration/evaporation responses to climate and disturbance. This understanding is used to inform, develop, test and apply ecosystem process models at a point to landscape and region.
Forest Wildlife Biology
Wildlife interact with forest systems in many ways, are key components of forest biodiversity, and are strongly influenced by forest management practices. Researchers in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society investigate interactions between wildlife and management and characteristics of forests at multiple spatial scales. The role of predators in structuring ecological communities is one example of research. Although much of this work takes place in the Pacific Northwest, the Department has conducted research, educational, and outreach programs about wildlife in forests spread across the world.
Forest genetics research in the Department focuses on the genomics, biotechnology, ecological genetics, physiological genetics, and breeding of forest trees. Much of this research is being conducted on poplars (genus Populus, which includes aspens and cottonwoods) and Douglas-fir. Poplar research focuses on the genetic engineering of flowering and transformation-based "functional genomics" (i.e., what do the genes in trees do?). Current research on Douglas-fir focuses on the population genomics of adaptation (e.g., cold hardiness), the genomics and quantitative genetics of wood quality, and the design and management of miniaturized seed orchards. Research on the genomics of Douglas-fir occurs in collaboration with other members of the Douglas-fir Genome Project.
Biogeochemistry broadly considers cycles of chemical elements between the atmosphere, vegetation, soils, waters, and bedrock. The Departmental program in Forest Biogeochemistry encompasses a wide range of teaching and research interests in both the role of forests as controls of element cycles and how biogeochemical cycles themselves may determine forest ecosystem dynamics. Scales of inquiry range from atoms, molecules, cells and organisms up to stands, watersheds, regions, and the entire Earth. Empirical, theoretical, and modelling approaches are adopted in concert to address a wide range of both applied and basic questions. Current Departmental research in forest biogeochemistry includes studies of soil development, fertility and organic matter dynamics, nutrient controls of forest productivity, disturbance effects on nutrient cycles and watershed export, and exchanges of carbon, nitrogen, and other key elements across forest ecosystem boundaries.
Research in tree physiology in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society seeks to reveal physiological mechanisms that underlie the growth and ecology of forest trees and forest ecosystems. One aspect of these investigations focuses on aging processes in forest trees, examining how ages and size of trees affects physiological processes, which in turn affect tree growth. Another line of research involves a collaboration with atmospheric scientists and soil scientists to develop new approaches to measure the physiological status of complex, mountainous ecosystems using stable isotopes. Current research also includes studies in Patagonia of the impact of exotic forest plantations on water resources.
Silviculture and Forest Regeneration
Scientific management of forest ecosystems often requires manipulation of various ecosystem components to produce desired outputs. These outputs include clean water, viable wildlife populations, wood, native biodiversity, and many other commodities and amenities. A strong scientific base is required to understand the natural constraints of forest ecosystems and to design silvicultural systems that evoke desired responses within those constraints. The program in Silviculture and Forest Regeneration builds and disseminates the knowledge base allowing us to identify the full suite of options available to various landowners and publics for managing a piece of forestland and to predict how alternative silvicultural interventions change or maintain the structure and dynamics of the managed ecosystem.
The goal of the Integrated Forest Protection program is to provide information and tools to natural resource managers to prevent undesirable impacts of insects, pathogens, weeds, and vertebrates. The program emphasizes prevention of pest problems through a thorough understanding of the biology and ecology of potential pests, and the coordinated use of a variety of pest management tactics and strategies in the context of integrated resource management.