Dr Kitchen conducts research on historical and current disturbance processes and their effects on shrubland, woodland, and forest ecosystems of the Intermountain Region (USA). Studies include:1) multi-century reconstructions of fire regimes and forest structures using tree-ring-based methods; 2) post-fire succession of mountain sagebrush communities; 3) Great Basin bristlecone pine climate and wildfire vulnerability assessment and 4) long-term effects of livestock grazing practices, invasive weeds and climate variability on grassland and shrubland ecosystem stability. Other work includes investigations of intra-specific variation in life-history attributes for widely-adapted grass, forb and shrub species from the Intermountain West. Attributes of interest include: reproductive potential, mechanisms for regulating seed dormancy and germination, requirements for seedling establishment and plant longevity. Dr Kitchen collaborates in the development and testing of native plants germplasm for use in restoration plantings.
Interests are to use knowledge of past disturbance patterns and vegetation dynamics and their interactions to inform the development of present and future wildland management strategies; improve understanding of interactions between cronic disturbance processes (such as livestock grazing), invasive weeds and climate variability and change; and provide tools (including plant materials) for restoring functional, resilient plant communities.
Dr Kitchen has explored within-species variation in seed dormancy and germination regulation for serveral widely-adapted perennial forb, grass and shrub species. He co-led a program to develop standardized protocols for testing seed purity, viability and germinability for numerous species important for wildland restoration plantings. His work contributed substantially to the development and release of the cultivars 'Anatone' bluebunch wheatgrass and 'Maple Grove' Lewis flax which are widely used in restoration plantings.
Successful management and restoration strategies require a thorough understanding of natural disturbance processes and their effects on vegetation. Long-term fire histories provide a means to describe and quantify variation in fire regimes from past eras at various scales and to assess the ecological effects of current departures from historical conditions. For management and restoration strategies to be successful in the future, improved understanding is needed of the interactions of altered patterns of disturbance, invasive species and climate change.