Plant and Ecosystem Ecology at Marshall University​


Our research focuses on quantifying vegetation and ecosystem dynamics over space and time and identifying how ecohydrology, climate, fire, and soil properties shape those patterns. In addition, a key goal of our research is to understand how plant communities will response to ongoing and future global environmental change. An important motivation of our work is to understand ecological patterns and processes at large spatial scales to inform landscape conservation. We collect field data, use existing large observational data sets, and implement simulation modeling to answer these questions in temperate shrublands, woodlands, and forests.
Big Sagebrush Plant Biodiversity Patterns across Space

A key challenge in ecology is to identify which community assembly processes influence biodiversity patterns across multiple scales. Despite the importance of big sagebrush shrublands in the western US, very little work has focused on quantifying plant biodiversity patterns in the herbaceous layer. We address this knowledge gap by exploring the geographic patterns of plant biodiversity and examining how soil water availability, along with livestock grazing, influences multiple dimensions of plant biodiversity across spatial scales.

Community Assembly in Longleaf Pine Plant Communities

Multiple ecological processes, which often operate at different spatial and temporal scales, are thought to act synergistically to influence the number and identity of species in local communities. Thus, a key challenge in ecology is to identify those processes and determine their relative importance. In this body of research, we explore vegetation patterns in the longleaf pine ecosystem and quantify the relative importance of multiple ecological processes (fire, soil properties, climate, biogeography history, competition, stochasticity) structuring those patterns over both space and time.
Effects of Prescribed Fire along Moisture Gradients in Oak Forests

Oak (Quercus) forests are widespread and important ecosystems in eastern North America. Fire is a natural and important process in these systems that maintains oak dominance and prevents invasion by mesophytic species. However, ongoing fire suppression has resulted in oak regeneration failure and shifts in species composition favoring mesic species. Our research explores the effects of prescribed fire on regeneration and forest structure in oak forests along soil moisure gradients.
Dryland Plant Comunity Response to Changing Climate, Fire, and Livestock Grazing

Globally, dryland plant communities are projected to be especially affected by climate change because their structure and function are closely tied to precipitation and temperature. However, the outcome of changing climate will not be uniform and will depend on spatially-structured environmental conditions. Our current research uses two coupled simulation models to explore the impacts of climate change, livestock grazing, and fire on ecohydrology and big sagebrush plant communities across the range of the big sagebrush distribution to guide landscape conservation and prioritization.