USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service
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»Center for Advanced Forest Ecosystem Research

Photo credit: Tom Iraci.

Science to support resilient forests in a changing climate.

Extreme climatic events are driving visible changes in forest landscapes in the Pacific Northwest across a wide range of scales, from the physiology of individual trees to stand, watershed, landscape, and regional scales. Complex interactions of drought, temperature, and associated disturbances like wildfire and insects are challenging managers and scientists to understand these drivers of change and develop innovative management solutions. 

The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Center for Advanced Forest Ecosystem Research (CAFER) has established a multidisciplinary, multiscale research program to document relationships between drought, temperature stress, and forest resource conditions. A virtual center, CAFER builds on the strength of senior scientists in the fields of remote sensing, landscape ecology, tree physiology, and hydrology. Their research will provide a scientific foundation for decisionmaking in a changing climate.  

CAFER Projects

  • Drought synthesis. Variation in climate, such as temperature or drought stress, has fundamentally shaped forested landscapes and how they function across the Pacific Northwest. As ecological processes respond differently to climate change, familiar patterns in our forests that have been coupled historically (i.e., correlated in space) might break down, giving way to novel landscapes. We are synthesizing existing information to better understand the ecological coupling currently present in Pacific Northwest forests, how it will change as climates change, and the role of public and private land management in shaping future forests. (Contact Dave Bell)
  • Drought sensitivity of central Oregon ponderosa pine and grand fir forests. In central Oregon, the Photo credit: Tom Iraci.stand densities of mature ponderosa pine forests have increased during the past 100 years as shade-tolerant grand fir has increased in these forests. It is not clear how grand fir has continued to increase across the landscape, as increased stand densities should have exacerbated drought stress. It is possible that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have ameliorated drought stress by increasing tree water use efficiency. We will analyze tree rings in combination with knowledge of stand structural characteristics and historical fire frequency to gain understanding of historical drought sensitivity in ponderosa pine and grand fir, and how resilient these increasingly crowded forests may be to future climate variability. (Contact Rick Meinzer and Tom Spies)
  • Contemporary effects of drought and temperature and water stress on tree mortality, growth, and vigor. Remote sensing allows us to acquire information about the earth through scanning via satellite or aircraft. This technology offers an unprecedented opportunity to see forest changes that would take a lifetime to measure on the ground. This study will use remote sensing to reveal vast amounts of information about drought stress and resulting forest conditions, including:
    • Linking water and temperature stress and tree mortality at fine scales to landscape patterns using remote sensing and hydrologic models. We will also examine the degree to which riparian environments have lower remote sensing stress than upland environments for different ecoregions. (Contact Warren Cohen and Gordon Grant )
    • Evaluating regional remote sensing-based measures of stress using stand- and tree-level forest inventory measures. These analyses will facilitate the interpretation of remotely sensed stress metrics by linking them to plot-based measures of forest conditions and processes, while also helping identify potential sources of variation in forest vulnerability and mechanisms of forest change. (Contact Dave Bell)

  • Future effects of drought on tree demography, mortality, and other factors in a warmer climate. Temperatures in Oregon and Washington continue to be above average, and much of the Pacific Northwest is experiencing drought. What does this mean for forests? This study will use historical information, contemporary data, and model output to understand forest response to extreme drought in space and time. By quantifying these responses across several forest types in the Pacific Northwest, it will be possible to project the effects of more frequent droughts in a warmer climate.  (Contact David Peterson)
  • Effects of the extremely low snowpack, warm temperatures, and low precipitation on streamflow in Photo credit: Tom Iraci.the Cascades. The volcanic Cascade Mountains represent a “landscape laboratory” comprising two distinct runoff regimes: the Western Cascade watersheds, with flashy streamflow and very low summer flows; and the spring-fed High Cascade watersheds, with a slow-responding streamflow regime that maintains late summer flow through deep-groundwater contributions to coldwater springs. To test differences in how these two networks respond to extremely low snowpack, we measured changing discharge, hydraulic geometry, and channel head location in both types of watersheds throughout the summer and early fall. We expect that these measurements will reveal the processes by which drainage networks change as flows diminish—a fundamental property of montane stream systems both now and in the future with major implications for aquatic ecosystems. (Contact Gordon Grant)


CAFER Scientists

CAFER brings together a multidisciplinary complement of highly accomplished scientists focused on pioneering concepts of forest ecosystem research, with an emphasis on climate resilience.


Warren Cohen

Warren CohenResearch expertise: Scaling field-based ecological information to landscape and regional levels with remote sensing and models; examining losses of information with scaling-induced generalization; interpretations and applications of Lidar data for characterizations of forest structure.

Forest Service profile
Director, Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing in Ecology


Gordon Grant

Gordon CohenResearch expertise: Structure and dynamics of mountain streams, watershed and stream response to changing land use and climate, watershed analysis, forest hydrology, geomorphology

Forest Service profile


Rick Meinzer

Rick MeinzerResearch expertise: Environmental plant physiology, physiological plant ecology, stress physiology, plant-water relations, photosynthetic gas exchange, stomatal physiology, stable isotopes in ecological research, micrometeorology.

Forest Service profile
Global Canopy Program


David L. Peterson

David L. PetersonResearch expertise: Effects of environmental stress on forest ecosystems, with emphasis on fire ecology and climate change and understanding and managing ecosystems at large spatial and temporal scales. Regional-scale research has focused primarily on the ecology of subalpine forest ecosystems, effects of climatic variability on tree growth and regeneration, and fire-climate interactions. Recent research focuses on fire-climate relationships across the western United States, development of guidelines for hazardous fuel treatment, and adaptation to climate change on federal lands.

Forest Service profile


Gordie Reeves

Gordie ReevesResearch expertise: Freshwater ecology of anadromous salmon and trout, conservation biology of those fish, the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems and associated biota, and aquatic aspects of landscape ecology.  He has studied the ecology of anadromous salmon and trout in the Pacific Northwest, northern California, Idaho, and Alaska and fish ecology in New Zealand and New York.

Forest Service profile


Tom Spies

Tom SpiesResearch expertise: Forest ecology, forest succession, stand and landscape structure and dynamics, old-growth forest ecology and conservation; overstory-understory relationships; coupled natural and human systems.

Forest Service profile



  • National Science Foundation
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Oregon State University

CAFER in the news:

Experts forecast Northwest water woes

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Thursday,09June2016 at16:13:52CDT

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