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Kathryn C. Baer

Kathryn C. Baer
Research Ecologist
Resource Monitoring and Assessment
161 E 1st Ave. Door #8
Anchorage, AK 99501-1639
United States
Phone
907-743-9414
Current Research

My research centers on improving our understanding of the current distributions and abundance of plant species, forecasting how distributions and abundance may shift with changing environmental conditions, and understanding how abiotic conditions and biotic interactions shape species’ demographic performance and population persistence. As a research ecologist with the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, I primarily work with the Phase 2 vegetation dataset. Some of my current projects and collaborations include:

  • Evaluation of biotic and abiotic predictors of invasions by non-native plants in forests of California, Oregon, and Washington
  • Predicting shifts in the distributions of berry-producing subsistence species in forests of Interior and Coastal Alaska
  • Fine-scale mapping of the current cover of common species and species groups throughout Alaska
  • Pollinator diversity in forests of the Tanana and Copper-Susitna watersheds of Interior Alaska
  • Demographic drivers of shifts in mean plant community heat tolerance with climate change
  • Using tree distribution data to predict topographic influences on microclimate
  • Abundance of medicinal plants and associated environmental attributes in forests throughout the US
Past Research

My previous research focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying distribution limits in plants. Ecological theory predicts that distribution limits arise from a combination of environmentally-mediated constraints on demographic performance and dispersal limitation, but studies of range limits very rarely address more than one aspect of demographic performance and almost never examine both changes in demography and dispersal limitation when attempting to explain range limits. My Ph.D. research focused on understanding how the outcome of biotic interactions (pre-dispersal seed predation and pollen limitation) impacted population performance across the distribution of the forb Astragalus utahensis and contributed to its northern distributional limit, the extent to which climate-based species distribution models accurately predicted declining demographic performance from the center of the distribution to its edges, and the extent to which the species’ northern distribution was limited by the ability to disperse to suitable habitat beyond the current boundary. This research presented one of the first case studies to demonstrate that biotic interactions can contribute to a species’ range limits via population-scale effects, but that the distribution is jointly limited by abiotic, biotic, and dispersal constraints.

Research Interest
  • Spatial ecology/distribution modeling
  • Population ecology/demography
  • Plant/pollinator interactions
Why This Research Is Important

Understanding current species distributions and demographic trajectories and predicting how these may change in the future can aid in answering both basic and applied ecological questions. For example, distribution models yielding presence and/or cover maps can be used to identify wildlife habitat, priority areas for conservation of economically or culturally important species, and areas likely to be threatened by invasions by non-native species or likely to see negative impacts of climate change on non-timber forest resources. Demographic modeling can reveal whether population persistence is threatened under current or future conditions. FIA data also allow us to answer basic ecological questions related to how various environmental conditions and disturbance histories shape species distributions and community assemblages and how these impacts may be altered depending upon the context in which a species is interacting with the surrounding environment.

Education
  • University of Montana, Ph.D. Organismal Biology, Ecology & Evolution, Population, Distribution & Pollination Ecology, 2017
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks, B.S. Biological Sciences, Biology, 2007
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks, B.A. Foreign Languages, Spanish, 2007
Awards & Recognition
  • Harper Prize (Shortlist), 2019
    Awarded by the British Ecological Society each year for the best paper in Journal of Ecology written by an early career author (Baer & Maron Journal of Ecology 2019)
https://www.fs.usda.gov/research/about/people/kbaer