I have worked 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. 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 forest sustainability and ecosystem services to society.
I examine forest-fire dynamics to understand how forests might respond to a changing, more fire prone world. A previous project used field data to highlight how tree age and size influence serotinous cones (closed cones that release seeds in the presence of fire) on pine trees in Florida. In another project, I used field data, geospatial data, and statistical models to show that fire opens new pathways for cheatgrass invasion within lower montane forests in Wyoming.
Spatial resilience: Resilience describes the capacity of a system to ‘spring back’ after disturbance and maintain its composition, structure, and functioning. 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 examine how spatial context supports post-fire forest recovery. My current project combines the framework with field data and geospatial data to understand how divergent seed source patterns shape post-fire tree recovery. 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 examines interactions between pattern and process across space and time. The discipline is rooted in 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. My current project uses landscape metrics to examine how spatial pattern at multiple scales influences post-fire tree recovery. Additionally, previous projects used tools that include GIS, Circuitscape, and FRAGSTATS.