From the September 2017 Desktop News | For most of us, a walk through the woods is an opportunity to relax, exercise, and exhale. Dr. Christina Staudhammer, a professor of biological sciences, sees a different kind of opportunity.
Staudhammer, who has a Ph.D. in forest biometrics from the University of British Columbia, works to apply and develop statistical models in forested ecosystems. Alongside colleagues from universities across the country, Staudhammer is working on a project focused on the effects forest management has on forest productivity. The National Science Foundation awarded their project a $1.6 million grant, with The University of Alabama receiving $750,000.
“Land managers everywhere use different techniques to maintain their forests,” Staudhammer says of the importance of forest management. “For example, in commercial forestry, activities often include harvesting and re-planting with genetically improved stock. Sites of planting are often treated to remove competing vegetation and/or improve growth through fertilization. Even small landowners may use so-called ‘thinning’ to reduce the number of trees on a given unit of land. This promotes the growth of the remaining trees and can also provide income from the removed trees.
“For this project, our ultimate goal is to determine the relative importance of management, climate, disturbance, and edaphic [soil] factors in determining change in forest ecosystem composition, structure, and function across scales from stands to the continent,” she explained. “For me personally, I aim to develop a framework for statistical testing of macroscale hypotheses about the role of forest management, and for making reliable predictions about the impact of forest management.”
In short, Staudhammer will be examining how different forces—forest management by humans, climate, soil—shape forests and the ecosystems within them. From there, she and her colleagues will create tools that can help other researchers make predictions about forest management in other places of the world.
“Our group will develop a set of ‘instructions,’ if you will…. a roadmap, perhaps,” Staudhammer said. “That framework will be a set of processes, such as developing a map, selecting appropriate attributes to feed into a model, developing an appropriate model (including the form of that model), and using that model for statistical tests about the role of management practices. If I am a researcher in another place, I could use those same instructions to do the same for my forests.”
The NSF grant plays a significant role in furthering her research. “[The grant] will enable me to pursue more forest-related research and work with some incredible scientists,” Staudhammer said. “For example, I am now working with some of the foremost ecosystem modelers, who are modifying existing models to incorporate management scenarios.”
The research Staudhammer and her team is embarking on will offer insight into ways that mankind can both use and protects our forests better. “This project has the potential to give land managers a new understanding for improved stewardship of forest resources,” Staudhammer noted. “This is especially important under predicted changes in climate, and our findings could lead to better policy and management in forested ecosystems.”
For Staudhammer, a walk through the woods is so much more than a chance to relax—it’s a study on a world in which humans play an increasingly large part. And Staudhammer loves the part she plays. “I have worked in forests from the Pacific Northwest to the southern United States to the Amazon, developing models of forest and ecosystems services and processes,” she said. “Forest management is everywhere, and it has a huge impact on ecosystem services.”