Ymchwil - Research

Current research in the ADFER lab is examining the ecosystem effects of disturbances and restoration with a particular focus on the effects of fire and the management of peatland ecosystems. Particular attention is paid to the causes and consequences of variation in fire regimes. Understanding such processes means we are increasingly interested in above-below ground interactions and trait-based approaches to modeling community dynamics. Research projects in the lab has included sites in the U.K., the western United States, Malawi, Bolivia and of course O-H-I-O.

Examples of on-going and previous research projects can be found below

Watch out invasive species PyroGoat is coming to get you!

Ohio’s forests face a perfect storm of stressors including invasive plants, insect pests, fire suppression and climate change. Invasive plants impact the economics and ecology of oak forests with species such as honeysuckle, multiflora rose and oriental bittersweet negatively impacting forest regeneration. This is exacerbated by suppression of historically-important fire disturbances favoring the expansion of shade-tolerant tree species of reduced biodiversity and economic value.

PyroGoat is a major new collaborative research project in our lab and will assess the efficacy of differing combinations of prescribed burning and grazing to control woody invasives. Our specific objectives are to: i) quantify how differences in burn season and grazing pressure affects the abundance of invasive and native forest plants; ii) explore how goat behavior and forage utilization are affected by management regime and plant palatability; and iii) evaluate the economic costs and benefits of varying forest restoration management regimes.

Restoration of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems following repeated wildfires

ADFER are working with the Bakker Lab at the University of Washington on the Long-term SUCCESS (JFSP) and Sagebrush Soil Health (USDA AFRI) projects which itself stems from the Fires@ALE project that Matt worked on as a post-doctoral researcher. Thousands of hectares of native shrub and grassland burned in large fires in 2000 and 2007 in the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve of the Hanford Reach National Monument in south-central Washington state. Permanent vegetation monitoring plots were established throughout the reserve and on surrounding private land in the mid-1990s, and many of these plots were re-measured following the 2000 fire. In addition, efforts to control invasive species (e.g. cheatgrass and tumbleweed) and establish native species took place following this fire. The combination of long-term monitoring, fire and rehabilitation treatments provide a unique opportunity for us to understand the effects of recurring disturbances in this landscape. Repeated fires may have significantly altered the reserve by killing-off previously dominant species and allowing alien species to invade. Such processes don't just impact on the conservation value of the site but also impact on their soils, wildlife and the productivity. The results of this study have been used to develop a novel state and transition model that we are currently testing as a tool to inform management decisions regarding present and future post-fire rehabilitation. Long-term SUCCESS seeks to advance our knowledge of the mechanisms behind the vegetation dynamics we've witnessed by taking a plant functional traits approach to modeling community change. This projectm is a collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Servive and is funded by the Joint Fire Science Program

Controls on ecosystem structure and function in Ohio's peat bogs

Our PRO Peat Bog and Bog HELPR projects are respectively funded by the OARDC SEEDS Grant and the Ohio Water Resources Center. They aim to map and understand the current status of Ohio's peat bog ecosystems, and to identify straightforward indicators of their condition and restoration potential. Peat bogs play diverse and important roles in our natural environment. In addition to providing specialized habitat for a variety of unique and rare plants and animals (such as carnivorous pitcher plants or prothonotary warblers), peat bogs provide a range of "ecosystem services" that benefit the State. Our projects study variation in the plant and microbial communities of Ohio's bogs in relation to historic degradation. We will relate the composition of these communities to the rate at which they are producing or storing greenhouse gases. Outcomes of these studies included: i) updated status of historically-known Ohio peat bogs; ii) an understanding of how plants and microbes influence interact to influence carbon storage in bogs; and iii) description of indicators of bogs' restoration potential .

Effects of variation in fire severity on temperate peatlands

ADFER have completed a range of research investigating how variation in climate and fuel structure affects the severity of peatland fires. Former PhD student Roger Grau Andres developed a series of unique fuel and climate manipulation experiments which are already providing substantial new insights into the consequences of variation in fire severity. Experimental drought and warming treatments have altered the moisture dynamics of ground fuels leading to significantly enhanced fuel consumption and ground and sub-surface heating. These changes had significant consequences for long-term soil thermal regimes whilst variation in fire severity altered trajectories of vegetation recover and soil CO2 and CH4 fluxes.

In other studies our team studied the impacts of the spate of peatland wildfires that occurred across the UK in the spring of 2011. Peatland wildfires can cause significant damage to ecosystem function, particularly in areas of high severity where ground-level layers of moss and peat are extensively heated or ignited. Our research developed a method for post-hoc assessment of fire severity and demonstrated that significant variability in severity between and within wildfires is linked to differences in fire weather and site edaphic and biotic characteristics. We have also investigated the carbon footprint of rare smouldering peat fire events and linked the impacts seen to the effects of peatland afforestation.