Forest and Woodland Ecosystems Science Program
Contact Information
  • Forest and Woodland Ecosystems Science Program
  • Southwest Forest Science Complex
  • 2500 South Pine Knoll
  • Flagstaff, AZ 86001-6381
  • Alison Hill 928-556-2105
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Research Subject Areas

Research conducted by scientists in the Forest and Woodland Ecosystems Science Program Program is divided into categories. Below is a short description of each. Follow category links to view a list of scientists conducting research in these areas, as well as selected publications.

Research Categories


Fire seedling
Prescribed fire can make nitrogen and other nutrients more readily available to plants in ponderosa pine ecosystems

Soils are complex elements of forest and woodland ecosystems, linking topography and geology with vegetation. The study of soil ecology includes soil organisms, nutrient cycling, productivity, soil development, fire effects on soils, hydrology and erosion. More...

Disturbance Ecology

2002 Schoonover fire
2002 Schoonover fire

Disturbances in forest and woodland ecosystems may be integral to maintaining the vegetation type or may precipitate changes in the vegetation, but they are inevitable. Disturbances in forests and woodlands include fire, insect outbreaks, floods, avalanches, and wildlife grazing, as well as human land use, logging, livestock grazing, fire suppression and climate change. More...


Mountain pine beetle
Mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) bore into the bark of the host

Insects are ubiquitous residents of forests and woodlands and are often closely evolved with their host plant species. Their relationships with trees and other plants may be beneficial or harmful. Several species of bark beetles and defoliating insects are studied within the Forest and Woodland Ecosystems Program at RMRS. More...

Applied Ecology

Fuel Thinning, Colorado Front Range
Fuel Thinning, Colorado Front Range

Humans live intimately with forests and woodlands and derive many benefits from them. Wood, forage and water are among the products of human manipulation of forest and woodland ecological processes through the practice of silviculture. Humans can influence the structure and function of forest and woodlands through prescribed fire, ecological restoration activities, forest management, and fuels reduction. More...

Landscape Ecology

Phantom Canyon Preserve
Ponderosa pine woodland at Phantom Canyon Preserve, Colorado

Scale is an integral element in ecology. Ecosystems function at a variety of scales in space and time, and managing public lands at appropriate scales to accommodate ecosystem functions and disturbance regimes is vital. Landscape ecology uses satellite and mapping technology to integrate many elements of ecosystems at large scales, helping managers to do ecosystem management, address scaling issues and large-scale processes, and determine the effects of past, present and future land use. More...

Historical Ecology

Fire scar sample
Historical fire regimes can be reconstructed by cross-dating fire scars on ponderosa pine wood

Understanding the past is integral to managing forests of the future. Reconstructing forests, climates and disturbances of the past through a variety of methods helps us understand how ecosystems came to be the way they are, and what they might become in the future. Using methods such as dendrochronology, palynology, archaeology and historical studies and accounts, scientists can reconstruct elements of ecosystems such as patterns of fire, past climates, land use history, and historical species distributions and relate them to past, present and future conditions. More...

Forest Pathology

Studying white pine blister rust circa 1950
Research scientist studying white pine blister rust, circa 1950

Plants and animals in forests and woodlands are subject to many diseases and parasites which affect their distribution, dominance and susceptibility to other disturbances. Some are native and co-evolved with species such as mistletoes and some root pathogens, while others are recent introductions that are changing ecosystems rapidly, such as white pine blister rust. Changing climate may alter the effects of these pathogens. More...

Modeling, Tools and Remote Sensing

Direct observation of the natural world can only take us so far. In order to project what we know into the future, the past or different scales in space or time, we need models and the data to parameterize them. Managers use models for decision support, simulations of management activities, and fire behavior and effects, to name a few. The new technologies of remote sensing allow us to gather data about vegetation and the effects of disturbance at landscape scales unavailable until recently. More...

Forest Genetics

Organisms are shaped by their environments both as individuals and as species over time. Those best adapted to current conditions pass these adaptations on to their progeny via their genes. The relationships between species and how they respond to past, present and future conditions are reflected in their genetics and their distributions in space and time. Genetics studies may help us save species threatened by unprecedented disturbances like climate change and invasive pathogens by allowing us to encourage adaptive and resistant strains. More...

Plant Biogeography

Erigeron mancus
Erigeron mancus, endemic to the LaSal Mountains near Moab, UT

Plants are distributed along gradients of environmental conditions that may change over time with changing climate. Communities of species tend to assemble under certain suites of conditions and may disassemble when those conditions change. The science of biogeography addresses the important issues of biodiversity, succession, the role of exotic and invasive species in ecosystem, climate-induced migrations and extinctions, and the presence and movement of ecotones between ecosystems. More...

Physiological Ecology

Organisms interact individually with their environments within the limits of their genetic tolerances. The geographic ranges of species are in part determined by their metabolic parameters, how they respond to stress, and how they respond to climate extremes and disturbances at different life stages. The study of physiological ecology will help us determine how plants and animals will react to conditions of changing climate and land use, which will migrate or go extinct, and what communities of the future will look like. More...

Climate and Meteorology

West Glacier Lake
Snow field above West Glacier Lake

Atmospheric conditions at different scales in space and time have profound effects on the structure and function of forest and woodland ecosystems. At the shortest time scales, the forest “breathes”, taking up carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, cycling water, carbon and nitrogen. At annual to decadal time scales, weather may cause disturbances such as fire, ice storms, avalanches and blowdowns, or may create conditions favorable for seedling establishment. At century to millennial time scales climate change determines the distribution of ecosystems and disturbance regimes. Rapidly changing climate conditions in the 21st century make the study of forests and the atmosphere more urgent than ever. More...