Ymchwil - Research

Current research in the ADFER lab is examining the ecosystem effects of disturbances and restoration with a particular focus on the effects of fire and the management of peatland ecosystems. Particular attention is paid to the causes and consequences of variation in fire regimes. Understanding such processes means we are increasingly interested in above-below ground interactions and trait-based approaches to modeling community dynamics. Research projects in the lab has included sites in the U.K., the western United States, Malawi, Bolivia and of course O-H-I-O. We welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in working on any of these issues.

A list of potential independent research projects for undergraduate or Honors students is available. Please feel free to contact Matt to discuss these opportunities

Examples of current or recent projects include:

Restoration of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems following repeated wildfires

ADFER are working with the Bakker Lab at the University of Washington on the Long-term SUCCESS project which itself stems from the "Fires@ALE" project that Matt worked on as a post-doctoral researcher. Thousands of hectares of native shrub and grassland burned in large fires in 2000 and 2007 in the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve of the Hanford Reach National Monument in south-central Washington state. Permanent vegetation monitoring plots were established throughout the reserve and on surrounding private land in the mid-1990s, and many of these plots were re-measured following the 2000 fire. In addition, efforts to control invasive species (e.g. cheatgrass and tumbleweed) and establish native species took place following this fire. The combination of long-term monitoring, fire and rehabilitation treatments provide a unique opportunity for us to understand the effects of recurring disturbances in this landscape. Repeated fires may have significantly altered the reserve by killing-off previously dominant species and allowing alien species to invade. Such processes don't just impact on the conservation value of the site but also impact on their wildlife and the productivity. The results of this study have been used to develop a novel state and transition model that we are currently testing as a tool to inform management decisions regarding present and future post-fire rehabilitation. Long-term SUCCESS seeks to advance our knowledge of the mechanisms behind the vegetation dynamics we've witnessed by taking a plant functional traits approach to modeling community change. This project is a collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Servive and is funded by the Joint Fire Science Program Recording vegetation community structure on the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve

History and restoration potential of Ohio's peat bogs

Controls on ecosystem structure and function in Ohio's peat bogs

Our PRO Peat Bog and Bog HELPR are respectively funded by the OARDC SEEDS Grant and the Ohio Water Resources Center. They aim to map and understand the current status of Ohio's peat bog ecosystems, and to identify straightforward indicators of their condition and restoration potential. Peat bogs play diverse and important roles in our natural environment. In addition to providing specialized habitat for a variety of unique and rare plants and animals (such as carnivorous pitcher plants or prothonotary warblers), peat bogs provide a range of "ecosystem services" that benefit the State. Although they now cover relatively little of Ohio's land area, their services are disproportionate to their size. They clean water, help control flooding during high rainfall events, and they store a large amount of below-ground carbon in their peat deposits. This carbon can be lost to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases when the bogs are degraded (for example due drainage, fire or agricultural conversion). Adding their carbon to the atmosphere could help accelerate climate change potentially threatening these ecosystems even further.

Our projects will study variation in the plant and microbial (e.g. bacteria) communities of Ohio's bogs in relation to the extent of historic degradation. We will relate the composition of these communities to the rate at which they are producing or storing greenhouse gases. Outcomes of these studies will include: i) updated status of historically-known Ohio peat bogs; ii) an understanding of how plants and microbes influence interact to influence carbon storage in bogs; and iii) description of indicators of their restoration potential that could be used by managers assessing new sites.

Causes and consequences of variation in fire severity on temperate peatlands

Preparing firebreaks before an experimental fire in the Scottish Highlands

ADFER have completed a range of research investigating how variation in climate and fuel structure affects the severity of peatland fires. PhD student (now post-doc) Roger Grau developed a series of unique fuel and climate manipulation experiments which are already providing substantial new insights into the consequences of variation in fire severity. Experimental drought and warming treatments have altered the moisture dynamics of ground fuels leading to significantly enhanced fuel consumption and ground and sub-surface heating. These changes had significant consequences for long-term soil thermal regimes whilst variation in fire severity altered trajectories of vegetation recover and soil CO2 and CH4 fluxes.

In other studies our team studied the impacts of the spate of peatland wildfires that occurred across the UK in the spring of 2011. Peatland wildfires can cause significant damage to ecosystem function, particularly in areas of high severity where ground-level layers of moss and peat are extensively heated or ignited. Our research developed a method for post-hoc assessment of fire severity and demonstrated that significant variability in severity between and within wildfires is linked to differences in fire weather and site edaphic and biotic characteristics. We have also investigated the carbon footprint of rare smouldering peat fire events and linked the impacts seen to the effects of peatland afforestation.