USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics Ecosystem Processes

Sierra Nevada Ecosystems


The Sierra Nevada is a region that is subject to diverse contemporary land management challenges with significant scientific uncertainties surrounding key management issues. Land Managers and policy-makers require dependable scientific information that will lead to sustaining the biological integrity and ecological sustainability goals for multiple ecosystems on Forest Service and other lands in the Sierra Nevada. Our research is expected to improve our understanding of ecological interactions within forest ecosystems and to provide high quality scientific information to manage the diverse array of natural resources in the Sierra. A full complement of descriptive, retrospective, and experimental research is required to achieve these objectives

Research Emphasis Areas:

Forest Function and Health

A team of researchers is making significant contributions to assessing restoration efforts by defining, quantifying and understanding key functions that shape forest condition, structure, and composition. Our research goal is focused on providing forest managers with better tools for understanding and restoring Sierra Nevada forests. Research must help understand and describe a middle ground where fire has an importance ecological role and its controlled reintroduction to western forests is desired and feasible.

Conservation of Biological Diversity

The worldwide loss of biological diversity continues, largely in response to widespread habitat destruction, over-harvesting, pollution, and the accidental and otherwise inappropriate introduction of foreign plants and animals. To conserve the biological diversity of the Sierra Nevada it will be crucial to identify the vulnerable components of biological diversity, determine the threats to diversity, understand the response of organisms and ecosystems to the threats, determine restoration and recovery techniques, perform adaptive management projects and monitor recovery.

Climate and Landscape Change

Climate has a profound influence in shaping the environment, natural resources, the economy, and other aspects of life throughout the world. High mountain systems, such as the Sierra Nevada, are uniquely sensitive to anticipated global climate changes and act as "canaries in the coal mine" to provide early signals of significant climate-driven changes. We are responding to this environmental force with a research team that addresses issues ranging from basic research on ecological response to climate and landscape change to applications in national forest management, conservation, and restoration.

Water and Watershed Processes [under water & watersheds topic]

Improved knowledge of aquatic and land interactions at local and watershed scales is essential to evaluate and design land management alternatives for stream and watershed resources. Restoration of the Sierra Nevada's forest watersheds to historic or desired conditions requires active management such as reintroduction of frequent, cool fires and removal of accumulated fuel loads. This problem area can address the multiple stressors often acting on aquatic ecosystems in forests: tree thinning/harvesting, fire, air pollution, climate variability, land use change, water diversion, grazing, and roads.

Institutional and Policy Processes

Current institutional capacities to articulate problems, participate in strategic planning and investment, and influencepublic land and resource decision-making varies considerably across jurisdictions and geography. There is a need to better understand institutional constraints and opportunities, and how interests interact with resource management institutions, in the context of public land decision-making. Research is needed on a broad range of social, economic and institutional factors that affect landscapes and land use decisions in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere.