I have been privileged to work in many fire-adapted landscapes both abroad and in the United States. A few include savannas in South Africa, black ash forests in Minnesota, rosemary scrub in Florida, and conifer forests in Wyoming and the Pacific Northwest. Being immersed in these diverse landscapes sparked questions about mechanisms driving spatial variation in post-fire forest recovery. Further, I wondered about recovery in the context of recent socio-environmental change altering disturbance severity, timing, and frequency. Today I continue to ask questions regarding forest resilience to increasing fire activity. To address these questions, my research intersects three themes:
Forest-fire dynamics: Forests are experiencing larger and more frequent fires due to increased human ignitions and increased temperatures, earlier spring snowmelt, and longer fire seasons associated with climate change. In this changing world, we must understand when and where forests are resilient to changing disturbance activity. Doing so is critical for maintaining long-term sustainability and forest ecosystem services to society.
Recent projects include using field observations to highlight how tree age and size influence serotinous cones (closed cones that release seeds in the presence of fire) on pine trees in central Florida. I also used field observations and statistical modeling to investigate how fire encouraged cheatgrass invasion within a lower montane forest in Wyoming. This work was published in the Florida Scientist and Diversity and Distributions respectively.
Spatial resilience: Resilience describes the capacity of a system to ‘spring back’ after being disturbed and maintain its functioning by absorbing or adapting to change. There is growing awareness that components of resilience differ in their spatial and temporal pattern and operate at different scales. However, pattern and scale are not well accounted for in resilience theory. In response, resilience theory was integrated with the spatio-temporal lens of landscape ecology to create the concept of spatial resilience.
I use spatial resilience as a theoretical framework to investigate when and where context supports post-fire forest recovery. For example, my dissertation combines the framework with remote sensing data and field observations to understand how divergent burn patterns and post-fire climates support forest resilience at three recent fires in Wyoming. This project is funded by a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award, National Geographic Early Career Grant, Joint Fire Science Program Graduate Research Innovation Award, and NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship.
Landscape ecology: Landscape ecology focuses on interactions between pattern and process across space and time. The discipline is rooted in theoretical concepts surrounding scale, organizational levels, and spatial heterogeneity. It also employs quantitative tools focused on spatial data and landscape analysis.
As a landscape ecologist, I often engage the discipline’s tools and theory. For instance, my dissertation focuses on landscapes, and investigates how spatial pattern at multiple scales controls post-fire forest recovery. Additionally, previous work used tools that include GIS, Circuitscape, and FRAGSTATS.