Global change in terrestrial ecosystems

Welcome! As a plant and forest community ecologist, I am interested in tracing human impacts across terrestrial landscapes. Global change impacts on forest and grassland communities, including infectious disease, invasive plant species, and climate change, are at the forefront of my scientific inquiries. I use a variety of techniques to answer in-depth, as well as broader questions, about the changes currently transpiring in natural systems. In particular, I love disentangling the complexity of climate change-induced shifts in abiotic-biotic interactions that shape plant communities across multiple scales.

Study Systems

I am fortunate to conduct my research in various systems, from grasslands, to mixed conifer, to subalpine forests. These systems provide critical ecosystem services and offer endless opportunities for scientific explorations, both outside in the backcountry and inside the lab. Each system offers insight into the next, and I am always amazed that no matter how much time I spend observing in the field, the mysteries grow increasingly more complex—a life-long challenge that will never grow old!

Research Highlights

Current projects

Long-term impacts of an invasive tree disease, bark beetles, and fire

Mountain pine beetle (MPB) and white pine blister rust infections from the first and second survey across four white pine species.

Preprint available here. We characterized long-term patterns of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae; MPB) attacks and white pine blister rust, an infectious tree disease caused by the pathogen, Cronartium ribicola in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). Our results highlighted that sugar pine has been declining much faster in SEKI than previously documented. If blister rust and MPB trends persist, western white pine may follow similar patterns of decline in the future. Given current spread patterns, blister rust will likely continue to increase in higher elevations, threatening subalpine white pines in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Climate change shifts infectious tree disease

Combining a long-term study of the epidemic tree disease caused by Cronartium ribicola, with a six-year, field-based assessment of drought-disease interactions, we found evidence that climate change shifted disease prevalence. The shift was asymmetric due to complex host-pathogen interactions and drought occurrences that ultimately contributed to an unexpected decline in mean disease prevalence. Our study underscores that host-pathogen-drought interactions will strongly mediate climate change impacts on infectious disease. Paper in review.

Extreme drought effects in the subalpine

To assess the impacts of the recent CA drought on subalpine forests, we collected over 800 tree cores, 1200 stable carbon isotope samples, and extracted DNA from all whitebark pine trees measured. Plots were randomly selected across the majority of the whitebark pine range in the Sierra Nevada (see map on left).

The remote locations and extreme terrain presented a fun challenge for the crew, but thanks to their extreme sense of adventure, we recently finished collecting data and are now analyzing our results. The tree growth patterns and responses to drought were counterintuitive and we’re excited to share our results soon! Here’s a poster my mentee recently presented at ESA, 2020.

Forest management impacts on understory species

Fire size and severity are increasing in the western United States. To increase forest resilience to fire, managers are implementing various fuel-reduction treatments. Though treatments can help moderate fire behavior and risk of crown torching, the long-term treatment impacts on introduced, as well as native herbaceous and shrub species, are less well understood. To assess long-term effects of fuel treatments on understory vegetation, we combined a longitudinal experiment (12- to 13-year) comparing mechanical thinning, prescribed fire (that burned twice), mechanical thinning plus fire to untreated control. Paper in review.

Mechanisms of bark beetle outbreaks in the Sierra Nevada

I am currently investigating the mechanisms driving mountain pine beetle (MPB, Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks from low to high elevations in the Sierra Nevada. Specifically, we are asking whether post-drought, lagged bark beetle outbreaks are driven primarily by changes in tree density or vulnerability, or rather by beetle population spillover from lower elevation outbreaks. Using a combination of physiological and remote sensing data, we aim to disentangle the complex drivers of MPB outbreaks in the highly vulnerable subalpine forests.


Spring 2019

Class of 2019 Smith Fellows!

I am honored to join the amazing Smith Fellows 2019 cohort! This fall, I am heading to UC Davis and will work with Andrew Latimer, Connie Millar and Phil van Mantgem on whitebark pine research and conservation. See more about the project here.

It phinally happened – I graduated! Profound thanks to my brilliant advisor, John Battles, and my incredible mentors, Katharine Suding, Richard Hobbs, and Nathan Stephenson who were integral in making this PhD a success! Here’s a link to my phinishing “ted talk”.

We had an out-of-this-time super bloom in Southern California this year! I finally got a glimpse of what John Muir wrote about years ago before the invasive grasses outcompeted our native forbs. Plant Love Stories featured my super bloom love story on their website. Also had fun making a video of some of the best wildflower shows I’ve ever seen!

Winter 2019

Photo won “Best Overall” at the 2019 ESPM Grad Fest

My writing piece on last summer’s research was selected and featured by the UC Berkeley Graduate Division. See the full story here!

Fall 2018

Wilding pines in New Zealand

Our paper was published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. We discuss the importance of considering novel elements and ecosystems in resilience-based management. Novelty is a double edged sword. Some novelty is critical for long-term ecosystem resilience, while novelty can also lead to undesirable outcomes, including a reduction of biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Identifying how we embrace or reject novelty in natural resource management is becoming increasingly important in an era of global change. CNR press release here.