US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Ron Zalesny in poplar stand in Po River Valley, Italy.

Ronald S. Zalesny, Jr.

Supervisory Research Plant Geneticist
5985 Highway K
United States

Phone: 715-362-1132
Fax: 715-362-1166
Contact Ronald S. Zalesny, Jr.

Current Research

I study genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating biomass production of short rotation woody crops (e.g., poplars and willows) grown for phytotechnologies, bioenergy, and fiber.

The provision of ecosystem services associated with these end uses is tightly linked with increasing human population levels at regional, national, and global scales, resulting in the need for such services along the urban to rural continuum that balance community well-being with ecological health and stability. To address this need, I am advancing short rotation woody crop production systems for pollution remediation and renewable energy.


I am developing phytoremediation and other phytotechnologies for ecosystem recovery, remediation, and restoration along the urban to rural continuum

* Phyto-Recurrent Selection: A Method for Selecting Genotypes for Phytotechnologies

* Phytoremediation of Inorganic Contaminants

* Phytoremediation of Organic Contaminants

* Mitigating Nonpoint Source Pollution in the Great Lakes Basin

* Urban Phytotechnologies for Faster Greening and Stormwater Mitigation

* The DeValix Technique: Ecological Restoration Mats Designed for Phytotechnologies

* Salt Tolerance and Salinity Thresholds of Woody Energy Crops

* Biochar: A Sustainable Soil Amendment

* Reclaiming and Restoring Lands Degraded from Mining

* Freshkills: Landfill to Park Conversion

I am refining silvicultural methods to provide ecosystem services such as optimal biomass productivity of hybrid poplar and willow across variable site and climate conditions

* Carbon Implications of Poplar Energy Crops Throughout the Energy Supply Chain

* Water Use Efficiency of Poplar and Willow Grown for Biomass and Phytotechnologies

* Predicting and Mapping Biomass of Poplar Energy Crops

* Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts from Short Rotation Woody Crops

* Optimizing Species Selection and Economic Performance of Woody Crops in the Southeastern, USA

* Economics of Poplar Production in Minnesota, USA

* Siting Poplar Biomass Systems to Increase Productivity and Ecosystem Services

* Technical Innovations to Enhance Energy Crop Production

* Adventitious Rooting and Early Establishment of Poplar Energy Crops

* Breeding and Selecting Poplar for Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts

* Comprehensive Database of North American Poplar Research Published from 1989 to 2011


In addition to short rotation woody crops, I also study the impacts of changing climates on patterns of tree adaptation in northern coniferous forest ecosystems.

There is a need for long-term conifer management strategies that optimize ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and feedstock production potential of plantations and natural forests. The success of such systems depends upon understanding the linkages among energy, climate, and tree genetics, which are vital for promoting biologically and economically sustainable reforestation, afforestation, and gene conservation.


I am evaluating the resiliency and adaptation potential of northern forest conifers to changing climates, specifically as they relate to growth and yield

* Effects of Climate Change on the Productivity and Ecological Genetics of White Pine

Why This Research is Important

Understanding the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating growth and development of short rotation woody crops supports effective deployment of favorable genotypes that helps: 1) reduce impacts from invasive species, 2) provide energy sources that do not contribute to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and global climate change, and 3) improve ecosystems along the urban to rural continuum through recovery, remediation, and restoration. Overall, the knowledge gained from my research helps growers and researchers increase the success of sustainable woody crop production systems, while providing essential ecosystem services such as clean water and healthy soils.


  • Iowa State University (McNabb Excellence Fellow), Ph.D. Forest Biology (Quantitative Genetics & Tree Improvement) 2003
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, B.S. Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (Forest Resources & Biometrics) 1999

Professional Experience

  • Adjunct Professor, Visiting Scientist, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
    2020 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Missouri, College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
    2020 - Current
  • Supervisory Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    2017 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, USDA Collaborator, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
    2009 - Current
  • Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    2008 - 2017
  • Acting Project Leader, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-7, Rhinelander, WI
    2014 - 2014
  • Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    2003 - 2008
  • McNabb Fellow (Graduate Research Assistant), Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    1999 - 2003
  • Forester, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    1999 - 2003
  • Teaching Assistant, Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    2001 - 2001
    Silviculture (Department of Forestry) Field Plot Technique (Department of Agronomy)
  • Forestry Technician, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    1995 - 1999
  • Undergraduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
    1998 - 1998

Professional Organizations

  • IUFRO Working Group 2.08.04 (Physiology and Genetics of Poplars and Willows)

Awards & Recognition

  • Institute of Lowland Forestry & Environment, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, 2018
    Collaboration and Partnership
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2016
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2015
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2007
    Fiber Production and Bioenergy
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2006
    Environmental Remediation
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 1998

Featured Publications & Products


Research Highlights


Biomass Potential of Poplar Energy Crops in Minnesota and Wisconsin Assessed

Scientists develop methods to map sites for poplar tree energy crops to enhance productivity and ecosystem services


Ecosystem Services and Environmental Technologies of Woody Crop Production Systems

Long-term research led by Forest Service scientists show that short rotation woody crops such as poplar and willow can be grown to enhance ecosy ...


Environmental and Economic Benefits of Short-Rotation Poplar Energy Crops

Woody production systems and conversion technologies help maintain healthy forests and ecosystems, create high-paying manufacturing jobs, and me ...


Production Costs of Poplar Energy Crops in the Great Lake States

Short-rotation woody crops have historically been used as feedstocks for energy and fiber, yet their relevance for environmental remediation tec ...


Scholars Program Welcomes Youth into the World of Nature

Alleviating nature deficit disorder in the youth of Wisconsin's Northwoods


Scientists use plants to restore ecosystem health in the Great Lakes Basin

A project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is greatly expanding the knowledge base of watershed-level benefits of phytoremediati ...


Last updated on : 09/30/2021