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Malcolm P. North

Malcolm P. North
Fire and Fuels Program
1731 Research Park
Davis, CA 95618
United States
Current Research

My current research is focused on the effects of disturbance on the structure, composition and function of Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer ecosystems. Mixed-conifer and ponderosa pines forests have been seriously impacted by a century of fire suppression and selective logging. In many areas this has reduced the number of large, old trees and increase stem densities, particularly of shade-tolerant species such as white fir and incense cedar. Fire and in some cases thinning, will be needed to restore historic forest conditions, however, the effect of these two restoration methods on ecosystem structure and function has not been systematically compared. Disturbance alters a forest's scaffold initiating changes in vegetation pattern, composition, microclimate and edaphic conditions. These in turn affect fundamental ecosystem processes (respiration, decomposition, nutrient cycling), trophic structure (invertebrate and fungal based food chains) and wildlife habitat. While many of these processes are difficult to measure, they are often strongly linked to forest structure and composition. Establishing the linkage between ecosystem function and stand structure can provide forest managers with a surrogate measure of the impacts of their activities on ecosystem health.

Past Research

My research has focused on the influence of forest structure, pattern and composition on ecosystem function and wildlife habitat. I've worked on identifying the particular structural features associated with spotted owl foraging and nesting, and the abundance of truffles, the main food source for the owl's prey, in these stands. With this interest I've worked on methods for describing and quantifying forest canopy structure, and how this structure varies in forest stands at different successional stages.

Research Interest

In the future, I plan to explore carbon stocks and how carbon emissions may be reduced as the global climate changes.

  • University of Washington, Ph.D., Forest Ecosystem Analysis, 1993
  • Yale University, M.F.S., Forest Ecology, 1988
  • Vassar College, B.A., English, 1979
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Developing strategies to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.

Year: 2017
Two published papers by Forest Service scientists are a foundation for the new forest plans being developed by three of the eight early adopter national forests (Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo). The action proposed in the papers, using fire to restore and maintain remote forestlands, was directly incorpo...

Balancing Forest Carbon Storage, Wildfire, and Sensitive Species Habitat

Year: 2016
Land managers can increase carbon stocks while providing endangered species habitat if fuels reduction (primarily prescribed fire, but also understory thinning) is strategically used.

Research Determines Carbon Costs and Benefits of Fuels Treatments

Year: 2010
In the western United States, nearly a century of fire suppression has increased tree densities and fuel accumulations. In forests that were historically maintained by frequent, low-severity fire, fire suppression has increased the risk of high-severity wildfire. Fuel treatments are being widely imp...

Report Offers New Management Strategies for Sierra Nevada Forests

Year: 2012
Concrete examples of science-based strategies are a hit with managers and stakeholders