US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Priority Areas

  • Forest Disturbances

SRS Science Area

Experimental Forests & Ranges

Tara Keyser

Tara L. Keyser

Research Forester
1577 Brevard Road
North Carolina
United States

Phone: 828-667-5261 x102
Contact Tara L. Keyser

Current Research

• Predicting and modeling vegetation response to silvicultural disturbances in mixed-species forests of the southern Appalachian Highlands. I characterize and quantify the responses of upland hardwood tree species to regeneration and intermediate stand-level treatments, including even- and uneven-aged regeneration methods, forest thinning, and prescribed fire. Specific topics include, (1) the Regional Oak Study; (2) effects of thinning on stump sprout potential and development; (3) use of prescribed fire to modify and control species composition; and (4) long-term effects of single-tree selection on forest structure and composition. Although the majority of my research is focused on the response of arborescent species to silvicultural treatments, many studies include an understory vegetation component, which adds another dimension to my research. The results from my studies will further the understanding of the ecology and sustainability of mixed-hardwood ecosystems and aid in the development of management and restoration guidelines that facilitates regeneration of mixed-species stands across this complex landscape. • Modeling climate-tree growth relationships. In cooperation with Dr. Peter Brown (Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research, Inc., Fort Collins, CO) and Dr. Bernie Parresol (USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC), I am working on two projects where primary objectives include (1) quantifying climate-growth relationships of single- and mixed-species, upland hardwood stands and (2) assessing how stand-level attributes, including stand age, site quality, and forest structure modify climate-growth relationships. Results from these studies will increase our understanding of how climate affects tree- and stand-level productivity and inform management decisions aimed at maintaining productivity under a changing climate. • Stand dynamics of mixed-species stands in the southern Appalachian Highlands. In the past, management goals were associated with timber production and extraction. Consequently, stands were often harvested at a rotation ages optimized to meet various timber-related goals and objections. Today, the age structure of many stands in the southern Appalachians has exceeded that traditional rotation age. Studies aimed at improving the growth and yield of single- and mixed-species stands what were initiated in the mid-twentieth century are a valuable source of information on how forest structure and composition change over time. I am using long-term data from previously established studies to examine (1) patterns of individual tree growth over time and (2) stand-level live tree carbon stocks over time. • Modeling canopy fuels in fire-prone forests of the western United States. Canopy fuel loads are based on estimates of canopy bulk density (CBD) and canopy base height (CBH). The primary method by which federal land managers predict CBD and CBH is through the use of the Fire and Fuels Extension to the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FFE-FVS). I work with the research team that includes Dr. Frederick Smith (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO) and Stephanie Rebain (USDA Forest Service, Forest Management Service Center, Fort Collins, CO) to model crown biomass and its vertical distribution of seven predominant western tree species across broad geographic regions to better predict CBD and CBH. The research will provide information to land managers where decreasing the potential for large-scale wildfires is of the highest priority.

Research Interests

The switch from managing for primarily timber to managing for the full range of services and values provided by forest ecosystems (e.g., wildlife habitat, biodiversity, watershed protection, resistance and resilience to disturbance) has caused silviculturists to re-examine the efficacy of using traditional silvicultural practices to meet current goals and objectives associated with ecosystem-based forest management; namely the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem complexity. In the near future, I along with partners from the National Forest of North Carolina (Jason Rodrigue, National Forests of North Carolina, Asheville, NC, Ted Oprean, Pisgah Ranger District, Brevard, NC, and David Casey, Cheoah Ranger District, Robbinsville, NC) will be implementing a large-scale study examining the efficacy of using a natural disturbance-based silvicultural system to regenerate and restore structural and compositional complexity to upland, mixed-oak forests in the southern Appalachian Mountains. In this region, a disturbance-based silvicultural system would rely heavily on the creation of small and medium-sized canopy gaps over extended periods of time to create mutli-cohort stands characterized by high levels of compositional and structural diversity at variable spatial and temporal scales. It is this restoration of complexity, at both the stand- and landscape-level, that ultimately may promote the resistance and resilience to a variety of current and emerging natural resource-related problems.

Why This Research is Important

The forest systems of the southern Appalachian Highlands are diverse in their ecology, and their ability to provide the resources and services demanded by society including water, timber and biomass, recreation, wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and landscape diversity. Minor changes in topography greatly affect site productivity, species composition, competitive interactions, and response to disturbance. Our limited understanding of forest dynamics and ecological processes throughout stand development and across this complex landscape greatly inhibits land managers' ability to predict the response of vegetation to both planned silvicultural treatments and unplanned natural disturbance events. There is a need to improve our knowledge of the establishment and sustainability of forested systems under the influence of natural and silvicultural disturbances as well as under varying climatic scenarios. Silviculture is used by resource managers and forest planners to balance multiple-use with sustainability. Our efforts to predict and manage the dynamics of southern Appalachian forests under disturbances is directly tied to our ability to understand the differential responses of southern Appalachian tree species to both natural and anthropogenic (i.e., silvicultural) disturbances, including climate change. Quantification of the response to disturbance across environmental gradients will better enable natural resource practitioner to better predict changes in forest structure, composition, and habitat quality and to develop methods to meet management and restoration goals.


  • Colorado State University, Ph.D. Forest Sciences 2007
  • Colorado State University, M.S. Forest Sciences 2005
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.S. Forest Ecology and Management 1994

Professional Organizations

  • Colorado State University, Adjunct Faculty (2010 - Current)
  • University Of Tennessee, Adjunct Faculty (2009 - Current)
  • Xi Sigma Pi, Member (1998 - Current)
  • Society Of American Foresters, Member (1996 - Current)
  • Western Carolina University, Adjunct Faculty (2015 - )

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Last updated on : 10/06/2016