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Plant ecology

Science Spotlights

Phenocam network graphic
Phenology is the study of the seasonality in nature, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. This software suite was developed to enable phenological analysis at scales ranging from organisms to landscapes and from days to decades.
Open pine forest with grassland understory treated by fire.
Land use and fire exclusion have influenced ecosystems worldwide, resulting in alternative ecosystem states. Open forests of savannas and woodlands used to be common, with an abundance of native grasses and flowering plants in the southeastern United States. Open pine ecosystems have transitioned to closed forests, primarily comprised of broadleaf species, and loblolly and slash pine plantations.
Koa trees with a blanket of grass underneath.
Planting old pastures with the native tree Acacia koa is a common forest restoration strategy in Hawaii, with goals including natural secondary succession to more diverse forest. Often, however, alien grasses remain dominant in the understory, without native species naturally recruiting into restoration areas. We explored the causes.
Field crews walking through 15-month-old regenerating native Acacia koa in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Similar to the continental western United States, invasive, alien grasses in the Hawaiian Islands promote fire and may lead to alteration of forested ecosystems. We looked at how pre-fire grass cover, pre-fire tree density, and burn severity affected post-fire Acacia koa regeneration across different habitat types.
Colorful map of AZ and NM
RMRS scientist Samuel Cushman has led the development and application of approaches to optimize multi-scale wildlife habitat relationships. We applied these methods to several American marten datasets and found very strong scale dependence of habitat relationships. We further explored how these methods improve understanding of brown bear habitat selection in Spain and understand niche partitioning of two sympatric marten species.
Cage bottom with surrounding grass
  Ecological restoration commonly emphasizes reestablishing native plant communities under the assumption that restoring plant communities will also restore wildlife, but this assumption is rarely tested. We demonstrate that actively restoring exotic-dominated grasslands to more native plant communities can passively restore the structure and function of native small mammal communities. However, restored consumer functions like seed predation...
An aerial view of slash pile burn scars.
We analyzed soil nutrients and chemistry and conducted in situ and greenhouse seedling bioassays to determine whether soil changes explain tree colonization patterns in slash pile burn scars. We found that soil changes may contribute somewhat to sparse tree colonization in burn scars, but they do not appear to be a significant barrier.
Small plants growing from a grassy area under a tree.
The native N-fixing tree Acacia koa (“koa”) is commonly used in restoration across the Hawaiian Islands, yet it can have unintended long-term consequences that stall restoration goals. Koa increases soil nutrients and facilitates exotic grasses that limit the regeneration of other native woody species needed for habitat restoration. We attempted to reverse high soil nitrogen conditions by adding carbon rich litter over 2.5 years under...
Sagebrush with mountains in the background.
We paired sagebrush establishment dates from annual growth rings with soil environmental data from sites across the Intermountain West to better understand the environmental drivers of sagebrush recruitment and recovery.
Mushrooms growing next to a stump.
A collaborative research team determined that a North American Desarmillaria species was distinct from the Eurasian species, and the North American species was described as D. caespitosa.