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.

Examples of current or recent projects include:

Understanding the impact of severe wildfires on moorland carbon dynamics

Peat smouldering beneath a layer of wet moss and duff Together with Alan Gray from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, I secured funding from the Natural Environment Research Council to study the impacts of the spate of wildfires 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 . Smouldering combustion in peat releases significant amounts of fossil carbon and destroys belowground plant structures and soil seedbanks. The large number of wildfires in spring 2011 only adds to increasing concern about potential feedbacks between climate, fire frequency, fire severity and carbon fluxes from peatlands. Research on the impacts of recent fires on UK moorlands will play an important role in filling this fundamental knowledge gap. This project will assess the causes and immediate impact of variation in wildfire severity across the UK; compare the effects of varying burn severity on above and below ground carbon dynamics and examine how fire severity affects trajectories of post-fire vegetation development.

Restoration of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems following repeated wildfires

I continue to work with the Bakker Lab at the University of Washington on research linked to the "Fires@ALE" project. 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. This project is a collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Servive funded by the Joint Fire Science Program Recording vegetation community structure on the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve

Causes and consequences of variation in fire severity on temperate peatlands

Preparing firebreaks before an experimental fire in the Scottish Highlands Together with PhD student Roger Grau, and colleagues at the University of Glasgow and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, I am investigating how variation in climate and fuel structure affects the severity of peatland fires. Roger has 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 already appear to be having consequences for long-term soil thermal regimes and soil CO2 and CH4 fluxes.

Characterising and mapping the environmental legacies of past human actions on woodland ecosystems

Interdisciplinary research is the key to understanding the links between the historic development of woodland ecosystems and their present-day functions, values and services. I initiated a project, currently led by PhD student Thomas Muller and colleagues at the University of Glasgow, that will combine ecological survey with archaeological, historical and cartographic research, taking advantage of the rich but underutilised evidence for woodland development (e.g. historic maps, estate records, aerial photographs, archaeological field remains). The objectives of the research are to: Develop methods for characterising and quantifying changing woodland cover; model the changing landscape context and distribution of woodlands in specific case study contexts(within the area of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere in south-west Scotland); quantify variation in the character of woodlands in relation to their landscape location and management history; and identify indicators of historic woodland management and biodiversity. Part of Timothy Pont's map of Scotland drawn in the 1580's