In the forest ecology lab we address questions of a fundamental nature while simultaneously focusing on issues of importance to society and the environment, often within a global environmental change framework. Major themes within our group include:
- Global climate (and other environmental) change effects on temperate and boreal forests
- Interactions among CO2, N, and diversity in grassland ecosystems
- Natural and anthropogenic disturbance as drivers of ecosystem change
- Scaling from leaves and roots to ecosystems and landscapes
- Global patterns of plant physiology and chemistry
- Mechanistic integration: Linking plant traits, resources, disturbances, community dynamics and ecosystem structure/function
Our objective is akin to providing an "owners manual" (although in this case, a "borrowers manual") to the operating systems of terrestrial ecosystems. We want to understand the structure and function of plants, soils, communities and ecosystems, and their interactions, and how and why they will change in the future, given the myriad variety of local to global environmental challenges. Given the complexity of ecological change, these processes almost invariably include complex interactions driven by or involving disturbance, species effects, multiple resource limitations, biogeochemistry, and competition, to name just a few. Depending on the question, we might take an ecophysiological, community, ecosystem, or landscape approach, or frequently an integrated and hopefully synthetic approach across scales. Our focus is on questions, not on disciplinary boundaries.
Our interests are primarily in the area of terrestrial ecology and our focus tends to be on the broad ecotone of central North America, where boreal forests, northern hardwood/eastern deciduous forests, oak woodlands/savannas, and grasslands converge and mix. However, we are involved in projects that address similar themes and issues in many other biomes and geographic locations, including work in several other continents (Australia, Europe, South America).
Lee Frelich's research focuses on the impacts of forest fires, windstorms, invasive species, and climate change on forests, and how forests adapt to these elements of change. Studies span scales from stands to landscapes, taxonomic groups from earthworms to wildflowers and trees; and bridge the gaps between science, conservation, and management of forests.
Rebecca Montgomery's research focuses on understanding the role of plant functional traits in plant ecology and response to global change. She is interested in understanding how plants interact with and respond to their environments and the implications of these responses for forest dynamics, forest management, biodiversity and ecosystem function. This broad scope will allow for better understanding of the effects of global climate change on terrestrial ecosystems, ecology of forest understories, mechanisms of species interactions in forest ecosystems, and the ecology of managed forest ecosystems.
In addition to his work at the University of Minnesota, Peter Reich is involved in helping to develop the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) at the Western Sydney University. This institute has comprehensive field and laboratory based facilities for research from genes to ecosystems and is dedicated to answering crucial questions about the impact of environmental change on land-based ecosystems. Reich is working to build linkages between ongoing global change experiments in Minnesota and Australia, and to develop education and research exchange programs between HIE and Minnesota at levels from undergraduate to postdoc to faculty.
As part of Reich's efforts to engage the public in ecology, environmental issues, and earth science, he is part of a small team producing the YouTube science education channel, MinuteEarth. MinuteEarth is all about 'Science and stories about our awesome planet!' These short videos (~2 min) are intended to be funny, informative, and educational. Topics include our climate, atmosphere, oceans, forests, food systems, transportation systems, insects, human biology, and much more.